I would first like to thank everyone in North Devon for the sacrifices they made during lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The hardship, we all endured, ultimately saved the lives of thousands.
I would also like to thank Sue Gray and her team for providing this report under extreme pressure.
I join many constituents, colleagues, and commentators in finding it frustrating that it has taken so long to get to this point and that the report does not cover everything, because of the concerns raised by the Metropolitan Police. It is also concerning that it has taken the writing of this report for the police to decide whether they would investigate matters, which were often taking place in buildings with a permanent police presence. Any suspected breach of Covid regulations must be treated equally and concerns about these events should have been raised with the police at the time.
I do welcome the fact that the Prime Minister has apologised again in his statement this week and is concentrating on action and moving forwards. We should not overlook what the Prime Minister and the Government have done and achieved over the last two years in extremely difficult circumstances.
While I have been very disappointed with what has happened at No 10, I have, like many MPs, waited for this report to come out. The Prime Minister committed to act on the findings of the Sue Gray report, and I am pleased the Prime Minister agreed, in the Chamber, to take on its four recommendations in full:
- Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.
- The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
- No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.
- The leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability. Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.
The Prime Minister committed, more than once this week to take responsibility for not only what has happened, but ensuring these changes happen swiftly so we can continue to deliver what the British people voted for in 2019. I personally do not think this is the right moment to initiate a ‘No Confidence’ vote in the Prime Minister. A Conservative leadership contest could take months, and the significant challenges Britain faces today, both home and abroad, require and deserve the full attention of the Government.
I look forward to the Met Police concluding their investigation, and the full release of the Gray investigation so the British public are afforded all the facts of what has occurred at No 10 over the last 2 years. Let me reiterate: at the conclusion of the investigations, it is essential that anyone that broke Covid regulations, agreed on by Parliament, should be held accountable.
I understand many constituents may disagree with my stance, but I have taken time to consider this matter and I will continue to act in what I believe is the best interests of all constituents in North Devon.
Selaine Saxby MP for North Devon