Comment: Damning report but no smoking gun as PM braces for bigger challenges ahead

A pie-eyed staffer throwing up, two colleagues fronting up for a straightener and more hard liquor than the shelves of your local Bargain Booze.

Boris Johnson speaking at PMQs on Wednesday
Boris Johnson speaking at PMQs on Wednesday

Welcome to lockdown, Downing Street style, where the fun and games never seemed to end.

Over 37 pages (and nine photographs) Sue Gray's report told us in no uncertain terms the rampant extent of the rule-breaking that went on behind the front door of Number 10 when Covid restrictions were in place.

And while we now know the gory details, we also know the PM's defence – quite simply that all the bad stuff happened after he had left.

Naturally none of this washed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who accused the PM of betraying the trust of the British public as he crowed about a "catalogue of criminality" and reiterated his call for Mr Johnson to resign.

However, for all the moral outrage likely to follow in the days ahead, the report is not quite the 'smoking gun' that Mr Johnson's political opponents hoped it would be.

His real challenge will come with the Parliamentary inquiry into whether or not he lied to the Commons.

Mr Johnson was swift to address the issue in his initial response to the report, saying he had only told MPs what he "believed to be true".

During the inquiry, it is this statement that will be examined, alongside his comments to the House in December 2021, when he said "the guidance was followed and the rules were followed at all times" in reference to Downing Street gatherings.

Such a claim is likely to come across as fairly ludicrous for anyone who has seen images of Mr Johnson raising a glass with colleagues in front of a table crammed with booze bottles.

Yet even if he is found to have misled Parliament the PM is highly unlikely to fall on his sword, although his opponents hope the resulting outcry will be enough to persuade a significant number of Tory MPs to turn against their boss.

Labour fears Mr Johnson at the ballot box, particularly as they are saddled with such an uninspiring leader of their own to take him on.

Their problem is that for many Conservative MPs, Mr Johnson remains their best chance when it comes to retaining their seats at the next general election.

And despite the damning report, for vast numbers of people across the country the PM is still far more palatable than the virtue-signalling, woke mob led by Sir Keir and his comrades.

In the meantime, Mr Johnson's administration needs to get a grip on a cost of living crisis which is rapidly spiralling out of control.

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