Sue Gray Report - Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:12 pm on 25th May 2022.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat Leader in the House of Lords 9:12 pm, 25th May 2022

My Lords, finally we have the Gray report. The country owes Sue Gray a tremendous debt of gratitude for undertaking her task fearlessly and thoroughly. It was typically dishonourable of the Prime Minister to try and persuade her at the 11th hour not to publish it at all, and typically courageous of her to do so. Will the Government at least release the minutes of her meeting with the Prime Minister, so that we can be clear exactly what took place?

On one level, today’s report does not tell us anything new. We already knew that there have been multiple parties in Downing Street, and that the culture was the opposite of that which the Government were enjoining on the rest of the population. We already knew that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary, far from instilling a culture in tune with both their messaging and the legislation, were encouraging what was going on. And we already knew that, by denying what had happened, the Prime Minister was misleading both Parliament and the country. What the report does is provide the gory details—and gory they are.

The Prime Minister’s defence today is that Downing Street is a large, busy building; that it was appropriate to have farewell parties, that he did not stay long at the parties, and that he had no idea what happened after he had left. If this were any other large organisation, in either the public or private sector, these risibly feeble excuses would have meant that heads at the top would roll. That they have not is a major indictment of the Prime Minister, his Government and the Conservative Party.

By refusing to resign, the Prime Minister has weakened his own standing, that of his party, that of the country, and that of politics and politicians more generally. It is clearly of huge importance that this loss of reputation and standing be reversed. In the first instance, this can only happen if the Prime Minister is replaced, and this can only happen if he is ejected by his Commons colleagues or the electorate. As far as his Commons colleagues are concerned, it seems that there is in reality virtually nothing which the Prime Minister could do which would impel them to act. This is most strange, as the only reason the Prime Minister became leader of his party was that many people who knew him to be a charlatan and a liar held their noses, because they thought he was an election winner.

If they have been out on the doorstep recently, they will have found that this situation no longer obtains. Yet, with one or two notable exceptions, they sit on their hands. They are therefore all complicit in the duplicities of this Government. If his MPs do not act, the Prime Minister will be removed only by the electorate. Recent elections have shown what voters already think of him, and with every electoral contest, whether by-election, local elections or the next election itself, there will now be a reckoning for the Conservative Party. The sadness is that, until the general election comes, we will be stuck with this morally bankrupt and rudderless Government.

But if the Prime Minister comes badly out of this saga, so too, I fear, do the Metropolitan Police. They turned a blind eye to the parties when they first happened. Under intense public pressure, they initiated an investigation, but the fines which they imposed, concentrated as they were on junior and female staff who co-operated fully with them, compared to other more senior people who clearly did not, look arbitrary and incomplete.

They failed to explain themselves, so they cannot rebut the inevitable suspicion, widely felt across the country, that the policy on fines was driven not by a strict interpretation of the law but by a political impulse to let the Prime Minister off lightly. They are now facing legal challenges into the way they behaved. They should pre-empt these now by coming clean on the rationale for their partygate policies.

The Prime Minister, understandably, wishes to draw a line under this sorry saga and in his mind he has probably already done so. But the public have not, and there will be a reckoning.