Moya Lothian-McLean: There will be no consequences for this brazen government
In her long-awaited report, Sue Gray writes that it is senior leadership who must “bear responsibility” for the lockdown breaches that took place. But they won’t. In his time as prime minister, Boris Johnson and his allies have intensified an already-existing boy’s club culture in the halls of power, to the point of it being Bullingdon-esque. Those at the top are Teflon. Instead, junior officials have borne the brunt of police fines, for attending events that were “condoned” by their bosses.
It’s a different story for the rest of the country, however. Thousands of fines and convictions have been handed out over the past few years, in a policing effort that was disproportionate, arbitrary and discriminatory. There were no special “questionnaires” for ordinary people to complete at their leisure, just on-the-spot fines and maybe a day in court if they dissented. Young, minority ethnic men in England and Wales were twice as likely to receive a fixed penalty notice, and single justice procedures meant thousands of people who were prosecuted did not have access to a fair trial, even as it was found that police forces were misinterpreting and unlawfully enforcing vague lockdown legislation.
In a just world, all Covid-related prosecutions would be dropped and fines refunded in light of Gray’s findings. But this isn’t a just world; it’s Boris Johnson’s England – and we’re all trapped in it.
Katy Balls: The delay to this report has saved Johnson’s skin
“I had thought it was going to be so much worse,” is one former minister’s reaction on reading Sue Gray’s report into Covid breaches in 10 Downing Street. Her inquiry into Partygate has been so long in the making – after its publication was delayed for the police investigation – that the rumour mill had gone into overdrive over what it might say.
In the end, it still makes for grim reading in No 10. Gray takes aim at both the political and official leadership for presiding over a culture that led to mass rule-breaking. There are plenty of embarrassing details that will make MPs squirm if asked to defend them on-air, from aides leaving Downing Street after 4am (and not because they were working late), abuse of cleaning staff, and a No 10 adviser saying ahead of the infamous BYOB party in the garden that a press conference was finishing so it was best to avoid “waving bottles of wine etc”.
What does it mean for Johnson? Had this report come out in January or February, it could have been the final nail in the coffin for the prime minister. But since then, the situation has improved for him, as he has used that time to shake-up No 10 and woo his MPs. It follows that, for the time being, it appears more MPs than not are willing to stick with him – pointing to the double June byelections as the next crunch point.
The reason Johnson’s allies believe he is more likely than not to survive this goes beyond the report’s contents. The biggest reason he is still in Downing Street is the lack of an obvious replacement. This means many MPs are backing him reluctantly. So while today’s report may not change his position, it will add to concerns about the miserable situation the Tory party is now in.
Devi Sridhar: Our leaders took advantage of people’s goodwill
In an extraordinary time for humanity, a once-in-a-century event, people were asked to make sacrifices to limit the spread of a new, dangerous virus and to take care of others in their community – especially elderly people and those with health issues. “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” we were told on a daily basis by Boris Johnson and his ministers. People were not allowed to attend the funerals of loved ones, women gave birth alone, and thousands of people died of Covid-19 in hospital with no one other than healthcare workers in PPE. It was a traumatic and sad time for the country.
This is the context in which to read Sue Gray’s report, which outlines how many social gatherings took place at No 10 (with approval of the leadership) which were not in line with current Covid guidance. The text and photos make for difficult reading because of the contrast between parties and celebrations in No 10, and the trauma and tragedy going on in hospitals and communities around the country.
We choose who leads us. We need leadership that is for the people, and that understands the sacrifices that normal Britons made day in and day out, not leadership that takes advantage of our goodwill.
Lobby Akinnola of Covid 19 Bereaved Families for Justice: The government has shown hideous disdain for the rest of us
Now that the Gray report has arrived, no one can claim to be in any doubt about the prime minister’s moral character, and the culture in Downing street throughout the pandemic. The only question left is how much longer he will be allowed to insult the British people by continuing as prime minister.
Politicians will argue over facts and fines, but the truth speaks to common sense: the prime minister and his aides broke the rules they created, and lied about it. They believed that as long as the majority of people followed the rules, they wouldn’t need to. They were wrong. It took one person to give Covid to my dad, and it took only one person to die for my whole world to be eclipsed. While the UK had one of the worst Covid death rates in the world, they partied and congratulated themselves on getting away with it.
We have been systematically lied to by the government at the time when we needed and deserved to have total trust in our leader. Just as his rule-breaking put the health of the nation at risk, his casual lawbreaking could jeopardise our national response in future crises.
The Gray report, for my family and families like mine, is not political. It is hideous proof of the disdain the government held for our loved ones far from Westminster, and for us, who bore the brunt of Covid and anti-Covid restrictions. It is proof that, had I been in a seat of power, I could have broken the rules to be with my dad before he died, and got away with it.
Bob Kerslake: Sometimes just saying sorry isn’t enough
In the end this was never about the number of fixed-penalty notices that the prime minister did or didn’t receive, but the abject failure of leadership that allowed these parties to happen during lockdown, and the attempt to cover it up when challenged.
Sue Gray’s report is written in the measured and balanced way that you would expect from a longstanding civil servant. She stops short of taking a view on whether individual events did or didn’t breach the rules. Nevertheless, its findings are damning. Event after event is juxtaposed against the prevailing rules at the time to devastating effect. All-night parties, drunken behaviour, mistreatment of junior staff, the list goes on. The cabinet secretary and other senior civil servants involved must shoulder their share of the blame but, ultimately, the buck stops with prime minister.
Gray rightly distinguishes what happened in No 10 from the experiences and behaviour of civil servants generally, who were as surprised and angry as the general public. But it will still have an impact on their morale.
The prime minister has apologised – but sometimes saying sorry just isn’t enough.