Sue Gray is carrying out a probe into parties held at No.10 and the Department for Education while the country was in lockdown because of COVID-19. The prime minister has admitted that he attended a gathering in Downing Street on May 20, 2020, telling MPs in the House of Commons on Wednesday that he was there for 25 minutes.
His statement has shaken public confidence in the Government and led to a row between Conservatives as supporters seek to defend their embattled leader while others, including the leader of the Scottish Tories, Douglas Ross, called for him to resign.
However, one scenario which could save Mr Johnson from a vote of no confidence has been outlined by Professor Colin Talbot, Professor of Government at the University of Manchester.
He told Express.co.uk that under the terms of reference of Sue Gray’s investigation, evidence of behaviour potentially deemed a criminal offence would be referred to the Metropolitan Police thus pausing the Cabinet Office’s probe until after detectives investigate any potential legal breaches.
Professor Talbot explained if that were to happen, Mr Johnson could say the evidence of potential wrongdoing has been referred to the Metropolitan Police so Sue Gray’s investigation has been put on ice.
He added: “By the time the Metropolitan Police get round to investigate, which could be months, people could have stopped feeling aggrieved about [the parties].”
A similar situation arose in the so-called Cash for Honours scandal during Tony Blair’s premiership when nominees to the House of Lords were found to have made loans to the Labour Party.
It took detectives about a year to investigate and the Crown Prosecution Service three months to reach its conclusion on the matter.
In comparison with the Downing Street parties probe, Professor Talbot said: “This is not as complicated. It could easily take two to three months. That is one possibility of the Gray inquiry.”
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The inquiry’s terms also say that Ms Gray’s “findings” will be made public rather than her report, leaving the way open for the Government to interpret the conclusions itself.
Professor Talbot, on the prospect of redactions, said: “That has happened under governments of all stripes in the past. Given [the report] will have to name names, there’s a good excuse to do so for privacy and confidentiality reasons.
“People assume [Sue Gray] will write the report and it will be published, but the prime minister will decide what does and does not get published. There will though be enormous political pressure to publish the report.”
He cited the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Russia’s influence over UK politics as further evidence of Government delays.
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The Senior Research Fellow at The Federal Trust said: “[Boris Johnson] could survive, but he would take a political hit if it went to the police.
“There are avenues by which they could kick the can down the road and he could survive. If the Tories are not willing to have a vote of no confidence, there’s nothing to stop him.”
He added that the likelihood of 54 of the 360 elected Conservative MPs writing letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s backbench 1922 Committee to trigger a leadership challenge was “problematic”.
That is because MPs may be biding their time, keeping Mr Johnson in post until local elections in May.
This would mean he would have to carry the can for a possible trouncing at the polls before he is replaced.
However, one possibility, according to Professor Talbot, is that Mr Johnson will not wait for others to decide his fate.
He said: “My view is he will jump before he is pushed. He is on a lower income as a prime minister than when he was writing a column.
“From everything I can see about his character, he’s not the sort of person who would like the constraints of being PM. He likes his personal freedom.”