The Cabinet Office is weighing up when to publish its partygate report in the wake of the Metropolitan Police asking for “minimal reference” to be made to the events it is investigating, Sky News understands.
Sources have confirmed that Sue Gray, the senior civil servant leading the inquiry into a series of events in Downing Street and across Whitehall which are alleged to have broken lockdown rules, will comply with the Metropolitan Police’s request.
She is now is assessing whether she is in a position to finish the process or delay.
It is understood Ms Gray’s team have not ruled out finalising a version that passes muster with the Met. Whatever is published will take into account the force’s latest statement.
Sky’s political editor Beth Rigby notes that this amounts to an invidious position for Ms Gray, who has to decide whether to put a partial version of her report out now, or wait until the police investigation is complete.
Her report, which is likely to have a significant impact on Boris Johnson‘s future as prime minister, has not yet been delivered to Number 10.
Separately, the Metropolitan Police is investigating partygate events to see if any laws were broken.
Police say they haven’t asked for report to be delayed
In its latest statement released on Friday, the force said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“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.”
Westminster has been braced this week for the publication of the Gray report, but this latest police statement throws the timing of that into doubt.
The statement indicates there will either have to be significant changes made to the Cabinet Office report before it is published, or the release of it may have to be pushed back until the Met concludes its investigation.
Ms Gray’s investigation is continuing and she remains in contact with the Metropolitan Police Service, Sky News understands.
Sources close to the Gray probe insist the findings will be made public, as set out in the terms of reference, but would not offer guidance as to when that would be.
Some legal figures have questioned the rationale behind the Met’s request.
Nazir Afzal OBE, former chief crown prosecutor for North West England and a former head of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said the move was “absolute nonsense” and a “purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation”.
Gray report has ‘turned into a circus’
Reacting to the statement, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the report “must be published in full and undoctored without further delay.
“This UK government farce has gone on long enough. People are understandably concerned that this increasingly looks like a cover up.”
Fran Hall, a spokesperson for the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group who lost her police officer husband to COVID, said the Gray report has “turned into a circus”.
“Tragically, it seems here that the Metropolitan Police have broken the trust of the public by first refusing to investigate flagrant law breaking, and now demanding any other investigation’s hide the most serious illegalities happening at Downing Street,” she said.
“It’s incredibly painful and they have let families like mine down. My husband was completely committed to justice, and he would have been appalled by this.”
Minister says ‘I don’t know a lot more than you do’
Asked on Sky News on Friday if Number 10 had received the document, technology minister Chris Philp said: “I spoke to someone in Downing Street about half an hour ago, and they certainly didn’t indicate that it had been received.
“So, I don’t know a lot more than you do but I’ve certainly got no information as of right now that it has been received.”
Earlier this week, it was believed the delay was in part due to Ms Gray wanting to run the document past lawyers, HR and the Metropolitan Police to make sure the document can be published in full.
It was thought that on Wednesday a delicate checking process was being carried out to ensure a duty of care was being given to Downing Street staff who may be implicated in the report.
But along with questions regarding the timing of the report’s publication, there has also been speculation around just how much of Ms Gray’s work will be made publicly available.
Speaking on Thursday, Mr Johnson said he is “absolutely not” delaying the release of the report and promised it would be released in full.
It came after he failed to explicitly commit to publishing the full report once the findings of inquiry are finally received by Downing Street.
Asked at PMQs by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer if he will release the entirety of Ms Gray’s report, the PM replied: “We’ve got to leave the report to the independent investigator, as he knows, of course when I receive it, of course, I will do exactly what I said.”
Sir Keir said anything other than the document being published “in full” would amount to a “cover up”.