Boris Johnson is expected to scapegoat head of civil service Simon Case this week in a desperate bid to save his own job, as both men face sharp criticism in a report on lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
Senior mandarin Sue Gray’s much-anticipated findings will blame, according to several sources, most notably Case, the UK’s top official, for developing a drinking culture where rule-breaking parties became commonplace during lockdowns.
A senior Whitehall figure who has seen parts of the report said it could also be more damaging to Johnson than the fine he was fined in April for attending his own birthday party, as it could have damaged the prime minister’s involvement in several other events. who may have led to rule-breaking, but for which he was not fined.
“From my expectation from what I know, it will be the real deal. There will be details. There will be proof. She’s going to say this is under your control, this is your house, all that sort of thing,” the source said.
Senior officials are bracing for Case to be so heavily criticized that he will have to tender his resignation, or be fired by Johnson, so Johnson can say he acted decisively and learned lessons.
“That’s probably why he” [Case] is still there [and not moved from his post already]says a source. “Because Johnson needs a body.” However, if Case lost his job, it would mean that an official who was not fined would lose his job, while the prime minister, who was fined, would keep his job.
A friend of Gray’s, who has worked with her in the civil service at a high level, said the report would be “horrific” reading for both the prime minister and his top officials and that Gray was in no mood to be forced off. to weaken its findings.
The friend said that before the Johnson era, the only party ever held among staff in Downing Street was the annual Christmas party. “At that time we didn’t have karaoke machines and suitcases to bring drinks in. I think it will be very difficult for Simon Case.”
Gray was hired to take over the party investigation from Case last December after it was revealed that he had hosted an event in his own office on December 17, 2020, to which invitations were sent out that read “Christmas Party!” A government spokesperson said at the time that officials in Case’s office took part in a “virtual quiz”.
Johnson and Case, along with a dozen other officials, are expected to be named by Gray.
While she isn’t expected to reveal a new “smoking weapon” detail or photo that will in itself cause terminal damage to the prime minister, the general impression of those with knowledge of the report is that her criticism of the failure of the leadership at the last minute. top will be hard to survive without someone senior falling on their sword.
Another source with knowledge of Gray’s thinking said, “Sue is in a very good place to make judgments. She has worked at the heart of government for a very long time. I think there is a genuine question.
‘What the hell was it about this time and this place that all this was allowed to go on? She’s worked with any number of Prime Ministers, so I think it’s going to be an element of ‘What was that? Was it a broader culture?’”
He added: “What has been said to me is that no one will come out of this well. So there will be damage for Johnson. In many ways it could be more harmful to him than the fine, because the fine was for a relatively small thing [his birthday party] that people were surprised that he was fined. So he could apologise.
“While what emerges in Sue’s report are details of some of the other incidents that may be more difficult for him to explain. So even though he wasn’t fined for them, the details that come out won’t look good.”
Gray has contacted about two dozen people she wants to identify directly or indirectly for their involvement in Downing Street events. They have until the end of Sunday to respond, and many would fight to maintain their anonymity. “There is a huge problem around publicity and anonymity,” said an insider.
When Gray has considered these belated statements, she will take them into account before submitting her report to Downing Street. Johnson has promised to publish it in full and without delay. Publication is now expected this week, along with a statement to the House of Commons by Johnson.
The prime minister was under pressure on Saturday to explain a recent meeting he had with Gray. It has led to claims that No. 10 had tried to distort and dilute its findings.
It is clear that Gray and Johnson met earlier this month, although a Whitehall source said the contents of the report were not discussed at any time. Downing Street said the meeting had taken place at Gray’s request, although reports differed yesterday.
Angela Rayner, deputy Labor leader, called on the prime minister to “explain urgently” why the “secret meeting” had taken place. She said public confidence in the process had already been damaged.
“Boris Johnson urgently needs to explain why he had a secret meeting with Sue Gray to discuss her report, despite claiming that her investigation was completely independent,” she said. “Public confidence in the process has already been exhausted and people deserve to know the truth.
“This is a Prime Minister who is unable to take responsibility for the rotten culture he has created in Downing Street or to do the right thing. The Sue Gray report must be published in full and with all accompanying evidence.”
Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine also called on the Prime Minister to shed light on the meeting. “Any hint of attachment would be an absolute mockery of the report,” she said.