The UK government’s internal inquiry into alleged lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street has hit another bump as it was requested to make “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by police.
The highly anticipated inquiry, led by senior civil servant Sue Gray, has the potential to trigger a vote of no confidence against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who admitted to being present at one of the gatherings for 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” but said he believed it was a work event before Downing Street admitted Johnson was at a brief gathering after a meeting—which reportedly involved a cake—where staff wished the prime minister happy birthday.
Gray was expected to produce a report this week. However, the timing has been complicated since the Metropolitan Police got involved.
Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said on Tuesday that it had been in liaison with the Cabinet Office, and had begun investigating “a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years” as a result of the information Gray’s team passed on to the force.
By Friday morning, there has been no sign Downing Street has received the report, which it said it intended to publish “as it is received from the investigation.”
The Met on Friday said it had not asked Gray to delay the report, but confirmed she was asked to minimise the mention of the events the force is investigating to avoid prejudicing the outcome.
“For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report,” the Met said in a statement.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
It’s unclear if or how much the request has affected the timing for Gray to submit her report.
Downing Street denied any involvement in the Met’s announcement, saying the office hasn’t “been privy to the details of that investigation or any of its content.”
“So that would be a matter for the investigations team and the Met,” a Downing Street spokesman said.
A former director of public prosecutions suggested the Met’s stance, that Gray’s report should omit details that “could avoid any prejudice,” appeared to be “disproportionate.”
“The risk of the police intervention this morning is that this leaves things hanging in the air for weeks and months, and that seems obviously not to be in the public interest,” Lord Ken Macdonald told BBC Radio 4’s “World At One” programme.
“If we’re talking about fixed penalty notices—like parking tickets, essentially—if we’re talking about that kind of resolution, then to take the rather grave step to delay a report that is going to shed public light on the subject matter of what may be a major public scandal, I think that is undesirable and I think it may be a misjudgment,” the crossbench said, adding the caveat that “only police know what it is that is really at play here.”
“It is really to say that if we are simply talking about lockdown breaches and fixed penalty notices, this move by the police this morning seems to be disproportionate.”
Macdonald said that what was not known was whether Gray had uncovered “slightly more complex behaviour that the police believes needs more sense of investigation,” offering the example of “the co-ordinated deletion of emails or text messages” that had possibly “raised the stakes and brought forward the consideration of more serious offending into play.”
Opposition leaders and some Conservative MPs said they want to see the report “in full,” with some criticising the Met over its request.
The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael warned against giving the appearance of an “establishment stitch-up” between Scotland Yard and the Sue Gray inquiry, while Tory MP Sir Christopher Chope accused the Met of “usurping its position by seeking to interfere in the affairs of state.”
Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer blamed Johnson’s behaviour for the “process issues” that he said were “bound” to emerge.
Asked whether, with his legal background, he saw any issues of prejudice, Starmer said: “Any issues of prejudice have got to be worked through but this whole mess, this whole of paralysing of politics, is being caused by the prime minister and his wrongdoing.”
Downing Street earlier said it couldn’t comment on whether or not there was cake at the birthday celebration for the prime minister until investigations into the so-called partygate saga had concluded.
PA contributed to this report.