The unasked question

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In the aftermath of Monday’s abbreviated publication of the Sue Gray Report on Downing Street’s abuse of lockdown rules, British prime minister Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, rendered a blistering assessment. “What the Gray Report does show is that Number 10 Downing Street was not observing the regulations they had imposed on members of the public,” May said. “So either my right honorable friend had not read the rules or didn’t understand what they meant, and others around him, or they didn’t think the rules applied to Number 10. Which was it?” To which Johnson disingenuously replied that wasn’t what the Gray Report said and he suggests that the former prime minister “waits to see the conclusion of the inquiry.”

That’s right, “technically” the Gray Report has still yet to be fully published, as it must be restricted to an abbreviated version until the Metropolitan Police have completed their inquiry. So for the time being Boris Johnson can have it both ways, he can both disavow the report and claim it hasn’t been published yet.

But there is one key question that no one seems prepared to ask. What does the prime minister intend to do once the report is published? That is, is it possible that the report could contain language so condemnatory of the prime minister’s actions that he will resign? It is clear that the answer to that question is “No.” Resignation is not part of Johnson’s playbook.

What the Gray Report does say is damning enough in limited format. Sue Gray wrote that multiple “failures of leadership and judgment” at Number 10 allowed parties to take place while the rest of the country was living under draconian lockdown rules. The Metropolitan Police (more popularly referred to as “Scotland Yard”) is currently investigating no less than 12 of 16 alleged events, including some attended by the prime minister.

The Gray Report revealed which gatherings the police are investigating. They include Boris Johnson’s birthday party and an event in the Downing Street garden, both of which Johnson has admitted he went to after first saying he did not. Another gathering, held in Johnson’s flat, is also being looked at by officers.

But it’s clear that, for Johnson, resignation is not on the table. I suspect if anyone were to bother to ask Johnson if it is, his response would be something like “Wait for the final report.” And once the final, unexpurgated report is finally published, what then? Johnson is hoping that much of the white hot heat of public scrutiny will have cooled by then. He might be right about that. The police report could take weeks or even months to finish.

The bottom line is that Boris Johnson, a proven serial liar and political hack, will continue to cling to power no matter what. He is the first British politician in my lifetime, perhaps ever, who did not resign when all others would have. Johnson is a continued harbinger of the shift in the political landscape, where loathsome serial liars now thrive out in the open. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.

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