A government minister has told Sky News he is “absolutely confident” nobody in Number 10 put pressure on Sue Gray to change details in her report into lockdown-breaking parties.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme he is confident Ms Gray could not be influenced by anybody and having worked with her before, he “would not question her independence”.
Asked for a black and white assurance that nobody in Downing Street or the civil service tried to influence her report, Mr Lewis said: “I’m absolutely confident that’s the case.
“Knowing Sue Gray, I don’t believe anybody would be able to pressure her into putting any kind of report out that she wasn’t confident with.
“I’m confident Sue Gray had the freedom to write the report she did write and publish.”
Boris Johnson is facing twin allegations of a partygate cover-up, with opposition leaders accusing him of “behaving like a tinpot despot”.
The Liberal Democrats claim reports that Downing Street put pressure on Ms Gray to dilute her report into lockdown-busting events in Downing Street and Whitehall reveal an attempt to cover up “lies and law-breaking”.
And Labour is to force a Commons vote on a move by the prime minister to re-write the ministerial code, which deputy leader Angela Rayner claims will “give a green light to corruption”.
On the Sue Gray report which was published last Wednesday, the Sunday Times claims that: “Sources, both political and civil service, say Gray was lobbied on Tuesday evening to make changes by three senior civil servants.
“They urged her not to publish the names of some of those who had attended the 12 law-breaking parties. Other changes were also requested to passages in the report that made reference to Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife.
“Gray told them to ‘instruct’ her to make the changes – a move that would have required a senior minister to sign off amendments, signalling publicly that the revisions had been made against her will.”
The newspaper claims that up to 30 people had been contacted by Ms Gray telling them she intended to name them, but only 15 people were named in the final report.
It adds that details concerning the “Abba night” party, which it is claimed was held in the prime minister’s flat on 13 November 2020, were “tweaked” by Mr Johnson’s chief-of-staff Steve Barclay on the eve of publication.
It is alleged an earlier draft of Ms Gray’s report referred to music being played and stated at what time the gathering ended, but that the information was redacted.
But Mr Lewis said it is not just Downing Street denying changes were made, but the Met Police looked at that particular event “and didn’t find an issue to fine people”.
Responding to the Sunday Times report, Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Wendy Chamberlain MP said: “This looks like another disgraceful attempt by Boris Johnson and the Conservatives to cover up for their lies and law-breaking.
“The Privileges Committee must immediately look into the supposed interference into the publication of the Sue Gray report. If the government really did alter the report, the British public should be told the truth.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson flatly denied the newspaper claims, saying: “We did not change the report in terms of substantive content. The key point that we would say about anything [that suggests] previous copy was substantively edited – it was never shared with Number 10 in advance.”
And in response to allegations about the “Abba” party, the spokesperson said that Ms Gray investigated all events under the terms of reference.
Labour, meanwhile, has committed to using an opposition day in the Commons to debate ministerial standards after Mr Johnson amended the ministerial code so ministers would not always have to resign for breaching it.
Ms Rayner claimed: “Boris Johnson is behaving like a tinpot despot and is trampling all over the principles of public life.
“Many decent Conservative MPs are deeply uncomfortable with Johnson’s behaviour and they now have the chance to stop his sinister attempts at watering down standards and integrity in our democracy.
“Serious breaches of the ministerial code must result in resignation, whether they are deliberately misleading parliament, bullying staff, bribery or sexual assault.
“This prime minister simply cannot be trusted to uphold standards in government while his conduct sinks further into the gutter and he gives the green light to corruption.
“It’s time to stop the rot that this prime minister has created at the heart of government and restore standards in public life.”