Sue Gray is putting the final touches to her report on lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, after a deadline passed for the individuals she plans to name to raise objections.
One Whitehall source suggested some of the senior figures warned by Gray that they would be identified were believed to have objected; but she had factored in time to respond to their concerns and press ahead with publishing her final findings this week.
Conservative MPs have been awaiting the full details of what went on in Downing Street and Whitehall at a string of gatherings for which 126 fines have now been levied – only one of them on the prime minister.
One former minister said the fact Boris Johnson had only been fined once had eased the immediate pressure on him, but added: “I wouldn’t have thought the PM is out of the woods until the summer recess. There are lots of things that could still go wrong.”
As the Sunday deadline approached, the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, struggled to answer the question of why Gray recently met Johnson face to face, repeatedly insisting he did not know who called the meeting, or what had been discussed.
Downing Street maintains that it was Gray who did so. “Sue asked for the meeting, that is 100% true,” said a Number 10 source – though conceded that they could not rule out that she may have done so in response to initial prompting from someone in No 10.
Allies of Gray have suggested the request came from Johnson’s team. Labour’s Angela Rayner has called for the government to “urgently explain” what was discussed.
Quizzed by Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Zahawi said, “I don’t know the details of all the meetings that happen at No 10. What I do know is that the prime minister has never intervened in the investigation that Sue Gray has 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 unquestionable. She didn’t pull her punches in her first report.”
Pressed for further details of the meeting between Gray and Johnson, Zahawi said: “Meetings happen every day, my diary’s full of meetings. You can ask me a question: ‘Who put this meeting in my diary?’ … it will have gone in my diary because someone in my team would have thought this is the right thing to do.”
Gray’s report is expected to be published this week, and up to 30 officials have been told they could be named directly or easily identifiable. They were given until 5pm on Sunday to respond.
They are expected to include the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, the most senior civil servant, who is regarded as a likely scapegoat despite not receiving a fine.
Case is blamed by some junior civil servants for failing to take a share of responsibility for the boozy culture that developed in No 10, or to shield them from an investigation that has led to junior staffers receiving multiple fines, while he has escaped blame-free.
Gray was appointed to take over the investigation into parties from Case in December, after he was revealed to have hosted an event in his office for which invitations were sent out saying “Christmas Party!”. A government spokesperson said at the time that officials in Case’s office took part in a “virtual quiz”.
Case had been expected to appear before MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday, but ministers unexpectedly cancelled the hearing last week shortly after it had been announced.
The Metropolitan police revealed on Thursday they had completed their investigation into lockdown-busting gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall.
The prime minister received one fixed-penalty notice 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 civil servants and Tory MPs were astonished that the prime minister did not receive further fines, particularly since he is known to have attended some of the events for which others are believed to have been penalised.
Johnson is expected to give a statement in parliament when Gray’s report is published. He will then face an investigation by the House of Commons privileges committee over whether he misled MPs when the Partygate stories first emerged by insisting that “all guidance was followed” in No 10.