This follows the Met Police first stating they could not retrospectively investigate, then stating there was not sufficient evidence, then saying they’d wait for the Sue Gray report, then saying they must investigate due to as-yet unpublished evidence in said report, and now potentially asking for redactions to that same report.
It is a farcical merry-go-round of contradictions which poses deeply concerning questions about the relationship between the police and Downing Street.
What must be remembered when examining the Metropolitan Police’s approach to the Downing Street parties and the Sue Gray report, is that this is as much a face-saving effort for the force as it is for Number 10.
It should not be forgotten that these alleged events – so serious in their criminality to now warrant investigation behind closed doors – occurred unimpeded and without being questioned by police officers on the doorstep of Downing Street.
Any discovery of criminal behaviour – especially if such behaviour was egregious in its rule-breaking – is a significant and potentially fatal blow to public confidence in the Met Police and its commissioner, Cressida Dick, in particular.
Without knowing why the request for “minimal reference” has been made public now, the only real consequence is a further delay to the full, unredacted Gray report.
It is the best of both worlds for the Met Police – who can avoid reputational damage by being the ones who discover criminality, albeit late – and the Prime Minister – who can say he has published the report which is not as bad as his critics made out, potentially saving him from an immediate downfall and giving him time to shore up support.
This will cause outrage amongst opposition politicians and it is also a baffling long-term strategy given that there is nothing worse for a government than a scandal that will not die.
Partygate will continue to hang like a bad smell over Number 10, and with local elections in May, it could hurt them electorally.
Boris Johnson is likely doomed, but whether it takes his own MPs, a general election, or electoral embarrassment in May, remains to be seen.