Sue Gray is finalizing her report on lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, after a deadline has passed for those she plans to name to object.
A Whitehall source suggested that some of the senior figures warned by Gray that they would be identified presumably objected; but she had considered the time to respond to their concerns and to continue publishing her final findings this week.
Conservative MPs have been waiting for full details of what happened in Downing Street and Whitehall in a series of rallies that have now seen 126 fines – only one against the Prime Minister.
A former minister said the fact that Boris Johnson had only been fined once eased the immediate pressure on him, but added: “I didn’t think the Prime Minister would be out of the woods until the summer recess. A lot of things can still go wrong.”
As Sunday’s deadline approached, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, struggled to answer the question of why Gray had recently met in person, insisting repeatedly that he did not know who had convened the meeting or what had been discussed.
Downing Street claims it was Gray who did. “Sue asked for the meeting, that’s 100% true,” said a Number 10 source, though admitting they couldn’t rule out doing this in response to someone’s initial prompting in Number 10.
Allies of Gray have suggested that the request came from Johnson’s team. Labor’s Angela Rayner has called on the government to “explain urgently” what has been discussed.
Asked by Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Zahawi said: “I don’t know the details of all the rallies taking place at No. 10. What I do know is that the Prime Minister never intervened in the investigation Sue Gray conducted. He’s always wanted her to go wherever the evidence takes her,” he said.
“I’ve worked with Sue Gray, I’ve known Sue Gray. I know she has the highest level of professionalism and her integrity is unquestioned. She did not leave her mark in her first report.”
Pressed for more details on the Gray and Johnson meeting, Zahawi said: “Meetings are happening every day, my calendar is full of meetings. You can ask me a question: ‘Who put this meeting in my agenda?’ … it will be on my calendar because someone on my team would have thought it was the right thing to do.”
Gray’s report is expected to be released this week, and up to 30 officials have been told they can be named directly or easily. They were given until 5 p.m. on Sunday to respond.
Among them, the cabinet minister, Simon Case, is expected to be the highest-ranking official, who is being considered a possible scapegoat despite not being fined.
Case has been accused by some subordinate officials for not taking some of the responsibility for the drunken culture that developed in No. 10, or for shielding them from an investigation that led to junior staffers having multiple charges. fines while he escaped guilt-free.
Gray was hired to take over Case’s party investigation in December after it was revealed that he had hosted an event in his office where 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”.
The case was expected to appear before MPs from the Committee on Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs on Tuesday, but ministers unexpectedly canceled the hearing last week shortly after it was announced.
Metropolitan Police revealed on Thursday that they had completed their investigation into lockdown-busting rallies in Downing Street and Whitehall.
The prime minister received one fixed fine for the birthday party held in the cabinet room in June 2020. The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and Johnson’s wife, Carrie Johnson, were also fined for attending the same event.
Many Tory officials and MPs were surprised that the Prime Minister was not fined further, especially as he is known to have attended some of the events that others would have been punished for.
Johnson is expected to make a statement in parliament when Gray’s report is published. He will then face an investigation by the House of Commons Privileges Committee into whether he misled MPs when the Partygate stories first emerged by insisting “all guidelines were followed” in No. 10.