Downing Street parties: Sue Gray won't wait for police inquiry

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Image source, Getty Images

Sue Gray is expected to deliver her report on No 10 parties to the PM without waiting for the police inquiry to conclude, the BBC has been told.

The senior civil servant is set to hand her report to Downing Street shortly - though no exact date has been given.

But police have asked for "minimal reference" to be made to events they are looking at, in order to "avoid any prejudice to our investigation".

Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope said the Met's actions were an "abuse of power".

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he accused the police of "interfering" with the content of the report and trying to prevent it being released in full.

Opposition parties have also insisted the report is released in full.

No 10 has promised to publish Ms Gray's findings on alleged lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, but is yet to receive the document.

Another Tory MP Adam Holloway, who said he backs Boris Johnson but is willing to "run with" Ms Gray's findings, told the same programme: "If I was Boris I would be really quite desperate for the truth to get out."

And Lord Morris of Aberavon, a former attorney general under ex-Labour PM Tony Blair, said he was dismayed with the police, telling the BBC: "Any prejudice which might result in fines would be a disproportionate concern."

But criminal barrister Matthew Scott, from Pump Court Chambers, said: "Given that they are investigating possible criminal offences I think they are absolutely right to do what they have done and ask.

"They have no power to enforce, but they can ask and they have done, that the relevant parts of the report not be made public before they have completed their inquiry."

Earlier this week, the Metropolitan Police said it was investigating the parties and gatherings.

The force later said it did not ask for the report to be delayed but was speaking to the Cabinet Office on the content of the report "to avoid any prejudice to our investigation".

This means the report Ms Gray releases before the police investigation is complete may need to contain some redactions, or be changed.

Mr Scott said the police's term "prejudice" did not refer to prejudicing a jury trial as there would not be one for any potential breach of lockdown rules.

Instead, the term referred to "spoiling their investigation".

Officers would not want witnesses or suspects to be influenced by what other people had told them already, he told BBC Breakfast.

"The police have no power to force Sue Gray to change her inquiry, or to redact her inquiry," he said, adding that the PM was also "perfectly at liberty" to publish the outcome - or indeed comply with a police request.

Media caption,
Watch Dame Cressida Dick announce the Met Police's investigation into No 10 lockdown parties

BBC political correspondent Iain Watson said he had been told Ms Gray was trying to redraft parts of her report to address any police concerns.

But, he said, she wanted to avoid blanking out whole swathes of text in case it looked like "a Whitehall whitewash".

Many Conservative MPs are saying they will wait for the publication before deciding whether to take action against the prime minister.

Material from the Cabinet Office was received by the force on Friday. And, in a statement, the Met said it expected to approach individuals "identified as having potentially breached" regulations.

Commander Catherine Roper, who leads the Met's Central Specialist Crime Command, said "the offences under investigation, where proven, would normally result in the issuing of a fixed penalty notice".

She added that the Met's actions would be "proportionate to the nature of these offences".

Former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald told the BBC that asking for Ms Gray's report to make only minimal reference to the gatherings being investigated by police seemed "disproportionate".

Tory MP Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown told BBC Newsnight: "I think No 10, the Metropolitan Police, and Sue Gray should get round a table and work out a way that this report can be published in full, unredacted, so that not only MPs, but our constituents more importantly, can make a judgement on what has happened."

Labour has called for the report to be published in full and the investigations to be wrapped up as soon as possible.

The SNP and Liberal Democrats are claiming the delay in publication is a "stitch-up" aimed at keeping Boris Johnson in power.

If anything less than that full report emerges next week, we can expect even more condemnation from the opposition parties.

All this is crucial to the prime minister's political future because some Conservative MPs have been telling me that they're considering putting in a letter of no confidence once they've read Sue Gray's report.

If that report is shorn of all the serious allegations of what was going on in Downing Street, it may well be the case that they sit on their hands until the Met completes its work.

The opposition say this is obviously to the advantage of Boris Johnson - it buys him some time.

But there's a bigger issue too, because it's not just the opposition politicians.

Some Conservatives are saying to me too that the way all this has been handled has further eroded public trust in the political system.

Mr Johnson has been under pressure following a string of allegations about events held in Downing Street and other government premises during coronavirus restrictions.

The SNP's Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said: "If the UK government refuses to publish the full unredacted report it will prove, yet again, that Westminster is utterly corrupt and broken beyond repair."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "Anything short of the full report would be a Whitehall whitewash not worth the paper it is written on."

And Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "What I want to see is Sue Gray's report in full and the investigation finished as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, senior Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat has become the first MP to publicly say he would consider running for Tory leader if a contest was triggered.

Mr Tugendhat, who chairs Parliament's foreign affairs select committee, told Times Radio "it's up to all of us to put ourselves forward" but he added there was "not a vacancy at the moment" and said he had not been canvassing support.

The government has faced intense pressure over events held in an around Downing Street.

Boris Johnson announced a plan to take the “first careful steps" out of the lockdown that began in March 2020. But he said people should continue to "obey the rules on social distancing and to enforce those rules we will increase the fines for the small minority who break them”.

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said, “those people were at work talking about work”.

About 100 people were invited by email to “socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden” on behalf of the prime minister’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds.

Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson has confirmed he attended the event, saying he was there for 25 minutes and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

A gathering took place in the Cabinet Office to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary.

On Boris Johnson’s birthday, up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to present the prime minister with a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday, according to a report by ITV News.

No 10 said staff had “gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that he had been there "for less than 10 minutes”.

Rules at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people.

Boris Johnson announced plans for a “significant return to normality" in England by Christmas "through targeted, local action” instead of national lockdowns.

But he added that the timetable relied on “every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly”.

With cases of coronavirus rising again, the prime minister told people in England that “we are once again asking you to stay at home” as a new national lockdown began.

He said people should only leave their homes “for work if you can’t work from home, for education, and for essential activities and emergencies”. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

Sources told the BBC that Downing Street staff members attended a gathering with Carrie Johnson in the flat where she and the prime minister live. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

The second national lockdown ended after four weeks but Boris Johnson replaced those restrictions with “tough tiers to keep this virus down”.

London was placed in tier two, which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless “reasonably necessary” for work purposes.

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

The Conservative Party has admitted that an “unauthorised gathering” took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee. The Metropolitan Police is to speak to two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’
Image caption The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’ Image copyright by Daily Mirror

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - showed Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher Image copyright by Sunday Mirror

London moved into the highest tier of restrictions and Matt Hancock, who was health secretary at the time, said it was important “everyone is cautious” ahead of the festive period.

The Department for Transport apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices that day, calling it “inappropriate" and an "error of judgment” by staff.

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce - the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was “truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result”.

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton, joking about reports of an event, saying: “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced.”

A gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of two private secretaries.

Lockdown restrictions were eased in England, with pubs and restaurants allowed to reopen with outdoor service only.

However, working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip's funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM's then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it “should not have happened at the time that it did”.

Boris Johnson was not at either party.