Boris Johnson’s fate is largely resting on the contents of Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-breaching parties at No.10.
The prime minister asked Tory MPs to wait for the top civil servant’s inquiry to be over before passing judgement on his future.
Once Gray’s report is published, and depending on her verdict on what went on in Downing Street, Conservatives could trigger a vote of no confidence in Johnson’s leadership.
It had been thought the report would be published at the start of the week. But we are still waiting.
The Metropolitan Police’s dramatic announcement on Tuesday that they were launching their own investigation into a “number” of gatherings allegedly held in Downing Street and Whitehall threw a spanner in the works.
It raised the possibility the report would be delayed for weeks until the police investigation was complete.
Downing Street initially suggested that Gray’s report would be split in two, with the first part only focusing on those get-togethers not under investigation by the police.
But later that day the Met said it was not stopping Gray publishing her own report in full before the police inquiry was complete.
As a result, the expectation in Westminster was that the report would be delivered to No.10 on Wednesday, with the prime minister making a statement in the Commons shortly afterwards.
But Wednesday came and went with still no sign of the report.
On Thursday morning there was still a belief it could be delivered to No.10 and released to the public before the weekend.
But Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, told MPs at 10.30am that there would be “no statements” that day
There was also a worry that Thursday or Friday would be inappropriate days for the report to be delivered, as many MPs would be far from Westminster in their constituencies and unable to get back to the Commons in time to hear what the PM had to say.
A consensus emerged that the coming Monday was now the most likely day.
But in a further twist, the Met announced on Friday morning it had in fact asked Gray to make “minimal refetrence” in her report to the parties they are probing, in case it prejudiced their inquiries.
That effectively left Gray with three options: ignore the Met and publish the full report, publish a watered-down version as per the police request or wait until the force’s investigation is over – a process that could take months – before releasing her findings.
The Met’s latest intervention has been widely criticised by those who want to see the report sooner rather than later, with many believing it lets the prime minister off the hook.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said: “A stitch up between the Met leadership and No. 10 will damage our politics for generations and it looks like it is happening right in front of our eyes.”
Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the North West England, said the Met’s request was “absolute nonsense”.
“A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation They just have to follow the evidence, of which the report will be a part,” he said.
Adam Wagner, a human rights barrister who is an expert on Covid regulations, asked: “How would a factual Civil Service report about events the police is investigating ‘prejudice’ their investigation?
“Arguably all of this would have been avoided if police had done the sensible thing and begun investigating in December when the allegations emerged.
“Now we are in public accountability limbo and there is a messy dynamic between the internal Gray report and police investigation.”
On Friday morning Downing Street said it was “completely a matter” for Gray’s team to decide what was in its report, and insisted there had been no contact between Number 10 and Met commissioner Cressida Dick.
“We are not privy to the contents or the details of that report,” the PM’s spokesman said. “Once we receive it we will seek to publish it as swiftly as possible, but as of yet we have not seen the report.”
So the wait for the Gray report goes on, and it could continue for a long while yet.