No10 admits it asked Sue Gray to meet Boris Johnson before publishing partygate report

Boris Johnson is facing calls to explain the purpose of a 'secret' meeting with Sue Gray. Credit: PA

Number 10 has admitted it requested a meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray - the civil servant investigating allegations of law-breaking against the PM and government staff.

The prime minister has declined to give details of the highly controversial meeting, which is being heavily criticsed for the "secret" nature in which it was held - with people suggesting it could have influenced the partygate report while it was still being finalised.

Mr Johnson has insisted the report will remain independent, despite the meeting, amid claims of a "stitch-up" between the government and Ms Gray.

He would also not reveal who requested the meeting but Number 10 told journalists in a briefing that "Number 10 officials" had suggested the meeting could be "helpful" to chat through "timings and publication process" of the report.

The PM's official spokesman, asked whether No 10 officials told Ms Gray's team that Boris Johnson would like to meet her, told reporters: "No, this was not at the request of the prime minister.

"It wasn't framed in that way. It was suggested it may be helpful to have that meeting."

Political Reporter Shehab Khan has the latest on the ongoing partygate saga:

It's a remarkable change of position from the government on the controversial meeting, with the education secretary first saying he did not know who requested the meeting, before a Treasury minister said it was initiated by Ms Gray herself.

But hours later Number 10 admitted its role in initiating the talks after Chief Secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke told various broadcasters, including ITV News, that Ms Gray requested the meeting.

Downing Street said the meeting took place near the start of the month and was arranged as it appeared the Metropolitan Police investigation into lockdown breaches was drawing to a conclusion.

Mr Clarke admitted the meeting was "designed... to tackle some of the practical issues connected with publication" of the report, including "photographs and whether people can be named in the report".

The prime minister, asked if the report was still an independent one, the prime minister said: "Of course, but on the process you are just going to have to hold your horses a little bit longer.

"I don't believe it will be too much longer and then I will be able to say a bit more."

Pressed on what they discussed, Mr Johnson told broadcasters he was "not going to give any running commentary on her report until we get it", but said "it can't be long now" before it is published.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats are hoping to force publication of details from the meeting by tabling a "humble address" motion in the House of Commons.

A humble address is an archaic parliamentary mechanism which can force the government to release documents by sending a message to the Queen.

The result is binding, meaning the government would be forced to release details of the meeting if enough Tory MPs rebelled to back the Lib Dem motion.

The party's chief whip Wendy Chamberlain is calling for the minutes of the meeting to be released and for details of who arranged it.

She said: "The public would be rightly angry if it turns out Boris Johnson put pressure on Sue Gray to water down her report into illegal Downing Street parties. A lack of transparency at this pivotal moment risks undermining the entire inquiry.

"We deserve to know whether this meeting really was an attempt to turn the report into a Downing Street stitch-up."

A date for the debate has not yet been set.

Asked why No 10 officials had suggested a meeting, the prime minister's official spokesman said: "There were reports, public reports, that the (Metropolitan Police's) Hillman investigation might be coming to a conclusion, so it was discussed that it might be useful to give an overview of what Sue Gray and her team were planning in regards to publication and timings - the publication following the conclusion of the report.

"I think those discussions had taken place at official level already."

Boris Johnson's meeting with Sue Gray - what's been said and when?

  • Meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray takes place at start of May as it appeared Met Police investigation was set to conclude

  • On Friday, May 20 Sky News reports the meeting took place and Number 10 confirms

  • Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday he did not know who called the meeting and claimed it was not relevant

  • On Monday morning Treasury minister Simon Clarke insisted to broadcasters that Sue Gray requested the meeting

  • By Monday afternoon Number 10 had admitted it was behind the meeting but insisted it was not held at the PM's request

The report - set to be published this week, before Parliament breaks for recess on Thursday - is expected to contain photographs and name officials who broke rules.

It was also reported that top civil servant Simon Case will be particularly hard-hit by the contents, despite the fact he was not fined over the scandal.

It follows the conclusion of a separate inquiry - dubbed Operation Hillman - by the Metropolitan Police into Covid rule-breaking events at the heart of government, which saw a total of 83 people receive at least one fixed-penalty notice (FPN) each for attending events over eight separate days.

Mr Johnson received just one fine, for his 56th birthday gathering in June 2020, when indoor mixing was banned, along with his wife Carrie Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Both Johnsons were later told by police they faced no further action, according to Downing Street, and Mr Sunak has not received an additional FPN.

The Telegraph cited a source as saying Mr Case will come in for “stinging criticism” in the Gray report.

“As the head of the civil service, the ultimate responsibility was his,” they added.

The Cabinet Office declined to comment on the reports about the permanent secretary.

Matt Hancock discussed enforcement of the Covid rules with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case Credit: Oli Scarff/PA

Cabinet ministers failed to shed light on the circumstances of the controversial meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray, details of which first emerged on Friday, as Labour said people “deserve to know the truth”.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi insisted during a round of broadcast interviews on Sunday that he did not know who called the meeting, or what was discussed, while maintaining Ms Gray had “complete control” over what would be published in the document.

It is understood Mr Johnson and Ms Gray met at least once for an update on the report’s progress while it was being drafted, but a Whitehall source said its contents were not discussed at any point.

Such meetings would not have been viewed as unusual, the source said, with the aim to take stock of what stage the report was at.

It came as about 30 people, including Mr Johnson, were being contacted by the Cabinet Office to warn them of the contents of the document.

It is thought that most of the letters were sent out on Thursday, as the Met concluded its investigation.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, called on the prime minister to “urgently explain” why the “secret meeting” with Ms Gray took place.

Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson had been “clear throughout” that the report should be “completely independent”.

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Meanwhile, Tory MP Laura Farris suggested she may resign as a ministerial aide at the Foreign Office in order to continue in her role on the Commons Privileges Committee, which is set to investigate whether the prime minister intentionally misled Parliament over partygate.

Ms Farris, who is currently both a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) and a member of the committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme the two roles were “incompatible” in the circumstances, and “that has to be resolved this week”.

“One or other will go. If I am to remain on the committee, I will resign as a PPS so that there isn’t that conflict,” she said.

Asked which option she was leaning towards, she said she thought it would be “the right thing to do” to stay on the committee.