There’s a reoccurring phrase whenever ministers make statements about the various Downing Street lockdown parties. We’ve heard it in the House of Commons, we’ve heard it at Prime Minister's Questions, we’ve heard it on the six o’clock news: ‘Let’s wait for Sue Gray to complete her inquiry.’
Why is everybody talking about Sue Gray?
Sue Gray (now the busiest woman on earth) has been charged with the responsibility of looking into the alleged parties at Number 10 and is said to be concluding her investigation as soon as possible. Her job is, essentially, to establish the facts of what exactly occurred at each suspected rule break and once she has completed her report it’s ultimately up to the Prime Minister and other members of parliament what happens next.
However, if Gray does conclude that coronavirus rules were broken at the gatherings in question then the police may become more heavily involved and Scotland Yard is already in touch with the Cabinet Office with regards to the seemingly never-ending list of incidents.
Who actually is Sue Gray?
Gray joined the civil service straight after leaving school in the late 1970s. She worked her way up to the Cabinet Office before taking a break a decade later to run a pub with her husband and country singer Bill Conlon in Northern Ireland. That’s a power move.
The couple’s Cove Bar in Newry was 10 miles from the border with the Republic of Ireland and, with the Troubles still raging, was part of an area known then a ‘bandit country’ where both Catholics and Protestants drank.
One customer, who was interviewed by The Sunday Times, said Gray was a ‘good landlady’ who ‘would have known not to open her mouth.’
Has Sue Gray conducted investigations before?
When Gray returned to Whitehall in 2021, she spent six year as Director General Of Propriety And Ethics in the Cabinet Office. She was asked by then PM Theresa May to investigate the Conservative MP Damian Green after allegations were made that he had lied about having pornographic images on his work computer.
Gray was also in charge on an inquiry known as ‘plebgate’ that took place after there were claims that Andrew Mitchell, a chief whip at the time, had insulted police officers in Downing Street.
Do people trust Sue Gray?
You want the person leading the investigation of potentially corrupt government ministers to be pretty squeaky clean themselves. And Gray appears be revered by many of her peers.
Polly Mackenzie – who worked as a special adviser in the Cabinet Office – told the BBC in 2017: ‘Sue has been there for so long, she knows everything that anybody has ever done wrong.’
A former Whitehall Permanent Secretary, Sir David Normington, also told the BBC that Gray is the ‘best person’ for the job. 'She will be very aware that she has the reputation and possibly the careers of senior civil servants and possibly of the prime minister in her hands, and that is a very difficult position to be in, however fair and fearless and rigorous you are,’ he said.
Will the the Government be held to account?
If a former pub land lady can’t identify a party…who can? With numerous high-profile inquiries behind her, Sue Gray seems well equipped to investigate the ever-evolving scandal.
However, there has been some scepticism of the investigation as it's not independent from the Government in power and, ultimately, Gray reports to the Prime Minister.
Additionally, Gray took on her role after those intended to conduct the investigation in the Cabinet were suspected of attending the parties themselves.
This has led many people to believe that an investigation can't be conducted effectively by someone that works for Johnson and it should instead be the responsibility of the Met Police to hold the Government to account.