Downing Street has denied that Boris Johnson has urged the senior official investigating lockdown parties in Whitehall to drop plans to publish her report.
The Times reported that at a meeting earlier this month, Prime Minister Sue Gray suggested there was no point in releasing her findings because the facts were “all known”.
However, the prime minister’s official spokesman said he did not recognize “that characterization” of what was a private meeting and that Mr Johnson wants the report published.
“This was a legitimate meeting about the process (of publication) rather than the contents of the report,” the spokesperson said.
“The Prime Minister wants the report published. He looks forward to seeing that at the conclusion of the report and its publication in the public domain.
“The Prime Minister has not asked her to drop the report or go ahead with the report. It was the Prime Minister who ordered the report. He wants the report published.”
Ms Gray is expected to release her findings as early as Wednesday, with widespread expectations that she will heavily criticize the culture in No. 10, which has led to repeated violations of Covid restrictions.
Previously, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted Johnson did not believe he was at a party to break the lockdown, in the footage showing him raising a glass surrounded by colleagues and wine bottles.
Mr Shapps said he was “upset” to see the photos but suggested the prime minister may not be fined for the event as he allowed the departure to be done “quite quickly”.
The Transport Secretary argued that Mr Johnson had only “fallen down” on November 13, 2020, to toast the outgoing communications chief Lee Cain.
The departure came just days after the Prime Minister ordered England’s second national lockdown.
Johnson, who the Transport Secretary claimed was “mortified” by the latest revelations, has faced fresh accusations of lying to Parliament after ITV News published the footage.
Scotland Yard was also faced with calls explaining why Mr Johnson was not fined for that event when photos showed him, drink in hand, at a table strewn with food and wine bottles.
There were at least eight other people in the room at a time when people weren’t allowed to socialize except to meet one person outside, and at least one person was fined for an event on that date.
Mr Shapps pointed out that Mr Johnson’s red ministerial box was present in the images, while claiming to Sky News the Prime Minister was “obviously not” partying.
“Looks like on his way out of the office he goes down and thanks the staff and raises the glass, and in his mind he doesn’t recognize it as a party,” Mr Shapps said.
The Transport Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today program he was “upset” to see the footage, but tried to explain why Johnson was not fined for the event.
He said he assumes the prime minister “goes in and out quite quickly, which is presumably why the police have not given the prime minister a fixed fine for that event”.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan was among those calling on Scotland Yard to explain why Johnson was only fined one for breaking lockdown rules with his 56th birthday gathering.
The Labor politician told Today that “police must explain why they have come to their conclusions and provide that clarity” to gain public confidence.
The Liberal Democrats have urged the Independent Office for Police Conduct to investigate the Met’s Operation Hillman investigation into the events of No 10 and Whitehall.
But Mr Shapps said the Met doesn’t need to explain his rationale and said: “I don’t think the police should comment on a continuous basis, no.”
He urged ITV’s Good Morning Britain that the prime minister was “not knowingly lying” to parliament when he repeatedly denied rule-breaking parties were taking place in No. 10.
Johnson was under new pressure from conservatives over the latest revelations.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross demanded the Prime Minister explain why he found his behavior “acceptable”, while most people would think the photos showed “unjustified and wrong”.
Conservative MP David Simmonds said he was waiting for Mrs Gray’s report but that it will be “very difficult” for Mr Johnson to explain how he has not misled parliament.
“It clearly raises a new question that we were all told very clearly that there had been absolutely no party on the day in question and these photos have surfaced suggesting that there is not,” the backbencher told Today.
“It seems to me that he could construct a defense over how people were working, but we have to put this in context. Many of my constituents lost relatives, they lost friends and relatives, my father-in-law died of Covid.”