No 10 admits it initiated controversial meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray

23 May 2022, 14:54 | Updated: 23 May 2022, 15:13

Sue Gray's Partygate report is expected to be published in the coming days
Sue Gray's Partygate report is expected to be published in the coming days. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

Downing Street has admitted it did initiate a controversial meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray over her Partygate report.

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It emerged on Friday that the Prime Minister and senior civil servant met for an update on the report's progress while it was being drafted.

Mr Johnson is facing calls to explain the meeting, while over the weekend No 10 and Ms Gray's office both denied proposing it.

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi repeatedly said he did not know who called it, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke insisted this morning that Ms Gray instigated it.

However, this afternoon the PM's official spokesman admitted it was first suggested by No 10 officials.

He said "it was suggested it may be helpful to have that meeting" but insisted this was not a request from Mr Johnson.

The "technical request" for a meeting then came from Ms Gray's office, he added.

The meeting was about "timings and publication process", he said, adding he was "not aware of any further" meetings.

Ms Gray's report is expected to be published in the coming days.

Mr Johnson does not agree with reports the civil servant was "playing politics" with her probe ahead of its publication, the spokesman also said today, after an anonymous "insider" made the accusation in the Daily Mail.

He added that minutes of the meeting will not be released because it was "private", while a "cast list" of who joined it will not be made available either.

The Liberal Democrats will try to pressure the Government to publish the minutes by issuing the demand in a "humble address" motion in Parliament.

Earlier today, Mr Johnson insisted Ms Gray was "of course" able to act independently but declined to answer questions about a meeting.

The Prime Minister said he would not give a "running commentary" but "it can't be long now" before the report is out "and then I will be able to say a bit more".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said reports of the meeting were a "new low" for the Government.

"I always had a concern that as we got to the publication of the Sue Gray report, there will be attempts by the Government to undermine her and undermine the report," he said.

"That's what we've seen going on over the weekend in recent days."

The report will follow the Metropolitan Police inquiry into rule-breaching events in Downing Street and Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions.

A total of 83 people were fined for events spanning eight separate days, including the Prime Minister, wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

They all received one fixed penalty notice for an event for Mr Johnson's 56th birthday in June 2020, when indoor mixing was banned.

Despite not being fined, reports suggest that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will come in for severe criticism in the Gray report and could face heavy pressure to resign.