‘The people of Sheffield deserve better than Boris Johnson’: Politicians react to Sue Gray report

Sheffield MPs have called for Boris Johnson to resign immediately following the publication of the Sue Gray report, saying although redacted it was “absolutely damning”.

By Molly Williams, Local Democracy Reporter
Monday, 31st January 2022, 6:03 pm
Updated Monday, 31st January 2022, 7:59 pm

The long-awaited report on the investigation into the various parties that took place in Number 10 Downing Street and Whitehall during the height of Covid-19 restrictions was published today.

The investigation was carried out by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, and although her report’s contents were “extremely limited” due to an ongoing investigation by the Metropolitan Police, it stated the government’s actions were difficult to justify and at least some of the gatherings represented a “serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working in the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”.

Following a heated debate in the House of Commons which focused on the report – published around an hour before – every Sheffield Labour MP called for the prime minister to resign and Sheffield’s only Conservative MP called for a culture change in the heart of government.

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Miriam Cates MP.

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East, said his constituents were furious and in disbelief that the people making the Covid-19 rules – which forced them to make so many difficult sacrifices – were not following them.

He said: “It’s absolutely damning and pins responsibility on those in charge and that has to be the prime minister. I think Boris Johnson ought to resign because he has to take responsibility for what has happened. Obviously there will be a police investigation into the details but it is clear he was in charge of an organisation which was blatantly breaching the rules on an almost systematic basis.

“It has to be from the top because very often these sorts of things it’s people who are lower down the hierarchy who get blamed and disciplined for things that were clearly tolerated and known about and accepted by the person or persons in charge. What would be absolutely wrong is if the prime minister tries to hang on to his job and then sack some of the other people from theirs.”

Gill Furniss, Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, said: “The Sue Gray report paints a damning picture of a complete failure of leadership by the prime minister. Every day that the prime minister remains in office is an insult to every single person who did the right thing and followed the rules, despite the immense sacrifices that so many made. If he had one shred of decency or respect for the British people, he would resign. Conservative MPs now need to step up and remove him from power.”

Olivia Blake MP.

Olivia Blake, Labour MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: “I think people are fed up of hearing excuses. As Sue Grey’s report says, the prime minister has demonstrated a complete failure of leadership – for once, he should do the right thing and resign. The people of Sheffield, who have sacrificed so much to follow the rules during the pandemic, deserve much better than Boris Johnson.”

What did the Sue Gray report say?

The findings that were revealed showed there were failures of leadership and judgement by different parts of Number 10 and the cabinet office at different times and some of the events should not have been allowed to take place or develop as they did. The garden was also inappropriately used without clear authorisation or oversight.

It was found that some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed but felt unable to do so.

Louise Haigh MP.

Going forward, Ms Gray said steps must be taken to ensure that every government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.

She also said there was a blurring of lines of accountability and too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister, which needs to be addressed as a priority.

Reacting to the report, Miriam Cates, Conservative MP for Penistone and Stocksbridge, said: “It is clear that what happened in Downing Street was wrong and that a number of serious misjudgements were made. People are right to be angry about this, and I share that anger.

“I am particularly disappointed by the apparent failure of those in Number 10 and the cabinet office to fully appreciate the impact of such strict and often inhumane Covid restrictions on ordinary people in the rest of the country.

Clive Betts MP.

“I agree fully with the recommendations of the report to change the culture and operation of Downing Street and the cabinet office. I am pleased that the prime minister has apologised for what happened and committed to implementing the report’s recommendations.

“As I have said previously, we still need to establish the full facts of what took place, and I await the outcome of the Metropolitan Police investigations. Anyone who is shown to have organised and/or authorised parties that were against the rules in place at the time should now face the appropriate consequences for their actions.”

The report also highlighted that the Metropolitan Police is now investigating 12 of the gatherings.

Louise Haigh, Labour MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: “Sue Gray’s findings could barely be more damning – a serious failure to observe standards, failures of leadership and judgement and that the criminal threshold has been met on no less than 12 occasions. How bad do things have to get before the PM does the honourable thing and resign?

“Time and time again, the prime minister assured the house that all guidance and rules were followed, we now have 12 cases that have reached the threshold for a criminal investigation, include a number held in the prime minister’s home.

“All Conservative MPs must now look at this report and remember the unimaginable sacrifices members of the public made in the name of protecting others. They did the decent thing, and the PM has dishonoured every single person who obeyed the rules in the interest of their wider community.”

Why was the investigation not published in full?

Of the 12 page report, only about one and a half pages were dedicated to the findings.

The Metropolitan Police told Ms Gray that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating, meaning much of her original report was withheld.

Ms Gray said: “Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.”

Mr Betts said: “There are big questions about the way the Met intervened last week, having for months refused to get involved they got involved right at the last minute saying ‘well it won’t stop Gray producing her report’ then two days later they changed their minds. So I think the Met has a lot of questions to answer about how they behaved and I think in the end Gray has done what she was allowed to do.”

What now?

The country is now awaiting the findings of the police investigations and further details of what happened.

In the meantime, Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, agreed with Labour colleagues that Boris Johnson needed to step down immediately.

He said: “The Gray report highlighted a failure of leadership and the prime minister is now at the centre of a police investigation. Instead of doing the honourable thing and resigning, he’s diverting the whole resources of government to saving his skin. Ministers are rolled out to defend what they know is indefensible when they should be getting on with their jobs. There are much more important issues, from the rising cost of living to the international crisis over Ukraine. Johnson must resign now so the country can move on.”

Ms Gray’s report can be found here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1051374/Investigation_into_alleged_gatherings_on_government_premises_during_Covid_restrictions_-_Update.pdf