Sue Gray report: The unanswered questions about Downing Street parties

By Reality Check team
BBC News

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Boris Johnson in Parliament 25 MayImage source, UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has published her full report into gatherings and parties at Downing Street when Covid restrictions were in force.

It has provided more information about what went on, but there are still a number of unanswered questions.

What happened in the Downing Street flat on 13 November?

One of the gatherings investigated by Ms Gray and the Metropolitan police was in the No 10 flat.

The Mail on Sunday said it was a "victory party" to mark Dominic Cummings leaving the government. It reported that Abba songs including The Winner Takes It All were heard being played loudly in the flat that evening, along with sounds of dancing.

However Ms Gray describes it as a "meeting to discuss the handling of the departures" of Mr Cummings and the No 10 Director of Communications, Lee Cain. Five (unnamed) special advisers attended and there was food and alcohol. The prime minister joined them at 20:00 and "the discussion carried on later into the evening".

Sue Gray says the "information collected on this gathering is limited" as it was halted when the Met investigation started and adds that, after the Met concluded its investigation, "I considered whether or not to conduct any further investigation into this event but concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to do so."

She does not explain why she concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate to continue to look into this event.

Asked by an MP to give further details about what went on in the flat, Mr Johnson refused.

Did the prime minister ask for the report not to be published, or to be edited?

There was some confusion earlier in the week about who had requested a meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke had told BBC News that it was Sue Gray who asked for it, but the prime minister's spokesperson later conceded that it had actually been the idea of Downing Street officials.

There have also been questions about what was said at this meeting. The suggestion that he had asked for it not to be published came from an article in the Times in which a source said: "He asked her is there much point in doing it now that it's all out there?"

Mr Johnson was first asked by Conservative MP Aaron Bell whether the Times story was true. Mr Johnson did not directly address the question. Later he was asked by Labour MP Karin Smyth "did he ask her not to publish the report?" Mr Johnson replied "no".

Mr Johnson was also asked about this in the press conference and said: "The terms of reference make it absolutely clear that Sue has got to publish a report."

Asked by Labour MP Wayne David "Were any changes made, following requests, to the section relating to the gathering in the No 10 flat on 13 November 2020?" Mr Johnson said he had already addressed that issue.

Why was Simon Case not fined for the birthday gathering?

The event for which the prime minister was fined was the gathering for his birthday on 19 June 2020.

It took place in the Cabinet Room with sandwiches, snacks, soft drinks and beer laid out on the table.

The report says that Simon Case, who is now the UK's top civil servant, "attended for a short period having arrived early for a meeting which was due to take place in the Cabinet room".

And it says that: "The chancellor was also there briefly having also arrived early for the same meeting."

Image source, Cabinet Office

Yet Rishi Sunak was fined by police for attending the party and Simon Case was not.

Both of them appear in the photos of the event in the report.

Who organised the birthday gathering?

The report says that special adviser Cleo Watson had been "asked to organise the event" for the prime minister's birthday.

But it does not say who asked her to organise it.

Newspapers have reported that it was the prime minister's then fiancee Carrie Symonds.

Did Boris Johnson know about any of the parties?

The prime minister is not mentioned in the report when it talks about the organisation of any of the events.

Image source, Cabinet Office

But some of the people involved in the messages and e-mails about them were his closest advisers, including his communications chief Lee Cain, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds and top aide Dominic Cummings.

For example, before the "bring your own booze" garden party on 20 May Mr Cain emailed Mr Reynolds and Mr Cummings saying: "I'm sure it'll be fine -and I applaud the gesture - but a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms risk in the current environment."

Is it possible that one of them mentioned this to Mr Johnson?

Who were the unidentified people in the garden?

In the account of the gathering in the garden at Downing Street on 15 May, the report talks about a number of groups appearing in a photograph in the Guardian.

There was a table on the terrace with Boris Johnson, his wife, Martin Reynolds and Dominic Cummings.

There is a group including the health secretary and Downing Street and Department of Health officials.

And finally: "There is a further group of four individuals sitting at a table on the terrace. It has not been possible to identify these individuals."

Who could they be?