January 31, 2022 - 6:04pm

An “update” on Sue Gray’s investigation into Partygate was published today. The good news for Boris is that it doesn’t land him in any more trouble than he is already. 

The media has focused on phrases like “failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times.” However, thanks to the police investigation, the specific details have been held back for the time being. 

There was one bit of the report that should have received more attention. Speaking of “blurred lines of accountability”, Gray writes that “too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister.”

This appears to be a reference to the Prime Minister’s Principle Private Secretary — meaning the civil servant who is the head of the Prime Minister’s Office. If Gray can be read as saying that this individual should not be expected to control everything that goes on in Downing Street, then shouldn’t the same apply to the PM? Boris Johnson is meant to be a head of government, not a facilities manager.

Are we really saying that he should be held directly responsible for the behaviour of every official in Downing Street? If it’s too much for his Principle Private Secretary, then it’s certainly too much for him. 

Of course what Boris Johnson is responsible for is his own behaviour. According to Gray, one of the events under investigation is described as a “gathering in the No 10 Downing Street flat” on the 13 November 2020. This happens to be the day that Dominic Cummings departed Downing Street for good (as he writes about here). 

Naturally, Gray’s interim report contains no further specifics about this alleged gathering or what might have happened there. We don’t know if Johnson was either present or involved. On this and most of the other key events, the details are still frustratingly unclear. 

Paul Brand of ITV tweets that the police have been handed a “bundle of evidence” containing “500 pieces of paper” and “300 photos”. It seems that these will now determine the Prime Minister’s fate — unless, of course, his colleagues can’t wait to find out. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.