Claims that details of an alleged Downing Street flat party were removed from Sue Gray’s investigation into coronavirus rule breaking has been denied by No 10 sources.
The Sunday Times reported that the senior civil servant, who on Wednesday delivered her 37-page report into events held in Downing Street and Whitehall during England’s lockdowns, had pressure placed on her by senior members of Boris Johnson’s team to remove certain details and names.
The newspaper said the so-called “Abba party” held in the Prime Minister’s flat on November 13 2020 was “tweaked” by Johnson’s chief-of-staff Steve Barclay on the eve of publication.
It is alleged an earlier draft of Gray’s report referred to music being played and stated at what time the gathering ended, but that the information was redacted.
But No 10 and Cabinet Office sources denied that any edits were made by Barclay, who is also the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
A No 10 source said: “It is untrue that anyone on the political side saw anything in advance or sought to influence it.”
The Cabinet Office rejected claims that the report was edited due to pressure or that any events were not investigated because of requests made by senior figures.
They referred back to the wording of the report where Gray explained her rationale for halting her probe into what happened in the flat Johnson shares with his wife Carrie.
Gray found that the Prime Minister – who is facing growing calls from Conservative MPs to resign over his handling of the so-called partygate affair – did attend the mid-lockdown gathering along with five special advisers, with “food and alcohol available”.
However, she halted her work having only collected “limited” information when the Metropolitan Police began their investigation.
There was no mention in her report of The Winner Takes It All and other Abba songs reportedly heard blaring from the Downing Street residence after the departure of Dominic Cummings, who was formerly the PM’s chief adviser, was announced amid a bitter power struggle.
Carrie Johnson was reportedly at the November event but was not named by Gray in relation to the flat gathering.
The official said she had not long been investigating the evening when Scotland Yard began its criminal investigation and, once the police work was complete, “concluded it was not appropriate or proportionate” to advance her own inquiries.
Johnson, who was handed a fixed-penalty notice for attending his own surprise birthday bash in June 2020 but not for any other event investigated by police, has been questioned both by MPs and journalists about whether members of his team sought to influence or edit parts of the report in relation to the No 11 flat gathering.
The Prime Minister told a press briefing on Wednesday: “The first I saw the report and read it in its entirety – and, to the best of my knowledge, the first any of my team saw it – was when we got it shortly after 10am this morning.
“The event in question was a work meeting and … the Metropolitan Police did investigate and that was certainly the outcome of their investigation.”
The Sunday Times also suggested that senior civil servants, including the head of the Civil Service Simon Case, No 10 permanent secretary Samantha Jones and Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary in the Cabinet Office, looked to lobby Gray to persuade her not to name individuals who attended the gatherings – events for which some Government employees have subsequently been fined for attending.
But the Cabinet Office pointed to the fact Gray named a host of senior figures, such as the Prime Minister’s former principal private secretary Martin Reynolds who arranged the “bring your own booze” No 10 garden party in May 2020, in her final document as evidence that she did not hold back from criticising those involved in the rule-breaking.
It comes as the number of Tory MPs to have publicly declared they have submitted letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister continued to tick upwards.
Former health minister Steve Brine and Anne Marie Morris became the latest to announce they have called for a vote on the future of Johnson’s premiership.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, will be obliged to order a confidence vote if he receives 54 letters demanding one.
More than 20 MPs have publicly stated that they no longer support Johnson but the actual number of letter writers may be higher given it is a secret process, with Brady not declaring how many have been received until the threshold has been met.