Starmer on the Gray report: “You cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker”

Keir Starmer
© Rupert Rivett/

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Keir Starmer in response to a statement from Boris Johnson following the publication of the Sue Gray report.

The door of 10 Downing Street is one of the great symbols of our democracy. Those who live behind it exercise great power but they do so knowing their stay is temporary. Long after they have gone. That door and the democracy it represents will remain firm and unyielding. But Britain’s constitution is fragile. It relies on members of this House and the custodians of No 10 behaving responsibly, honestly, and in the interests of the British people. When our leaders fall short of these standards, this House has a duty to act.

For months, members opposite have asked the country to wait. First – for the police investigation, which concluded that this Prime Minister is the first in our country’s history to have broken the law in office. Then – they asked the country to wait for the Sue Gray report and now they need wait no longer. This report lays bare the rot that under this Prime Minister has spread in 10 Downing Street. And it provides definitive proof of how those within that building treated the sacrifices of the British people with utter contempt. When the dust settles and the anger subsides this report will stand as a monument to the hubris and the arrogance of a government that believed it was one rule for them another rule for everyone else.

The details are stark. Five months ago the Prime Minister told this House that “all guidance was followed completely in No 10.” Yet we now know he attended events on the 17 December. At least one of which the police have handed out fines for, deeming it illegal. And we know on the 18 December an event was held in which staff drank “excessively”, which others in the building described as a “party”, and that cleaners were left to mop up red wine the next day. On 20 May, as a covid press conference was taking place, one of his senior officials was told: “be mindful … cameras are leaving …” [to not walk around] “waving bottles”. It is now impossible to defend the Prime Minister’s words to this House.

This is about trust. Because during that 20 May press conference, the British public were told “normal life as we know it is a long way off”. But we now though that wasn’t the case in his No 10. Even now, after 126 fines, they still think it is everyone else’s fault but theirs, they expect others to take the blame, while they cling on. They pretend that the Prime Minister has somehow been exonerated. As if the fact he only broke the law once is worthy of praise. The truth is they set the bar for his conduct – lower than a snake’s belly – and now they expect the rest of us to congratulate him as he stumbles over it.

No 10 symbolises the principles of public life in this country – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty, leadership. But who could read this report and honestly believe the Prime Minister has upheld them? The reason the British people have had to endure this farce was his refusal to admit the truth or do the decent thing when he was found to have broken the law. This report was necessary because of what Sue Gray describes as “failures of leadership and judgment”, for which “senior political leadership”, “must bear responsibility”. It is that failure of leadership that has now left his government paralysed in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

The Prime Minister has turned the focus of his government to saving his own skin. It is utterly shameful. It is precisely because he cannot lead. That it falls to others to do so. I’ve been clear what leadership looks like, I haven’t broken any rules. And any attempt to compare a perfectly legal takeaway while working to this catalogue of criminality, looks even more ridiculous today. But if the police decide otherwise, I will do the decent thing. The public need to know that not all politicians are the same that not all politicians put themselves above their country – that honesty, integrity and accountability matter.

Members on the opposite side must now also show leadership. This Prime Minister is steering the country in the wrong direction. They can hide in the backseat, eyes covered, praying for a miracle. Or they can act – stop this out of touch, out of control Prime Minister from driving Britain towards disaster. We waited for the Sue Gray Report but the country cannot wait any longer.

The values symbolised by the door of No 10 must be restored. Members opposite must finally do their bit. They must tell the current inhabitant – their leader – that this has gone on too long. That the game is up. That you cannot be a lawmaker and a lawbreaker. That it’s time to pack his bags. Only then can the government function again. Only then can the rot be carved out. Only then can we restore the dignity of that great office, and the democracy it represents.

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