An increasingly-confident Boris Johnson has finally been handed the Sue Gray report today as he braces to publish it and face a Commons grilling within hours.
The top civil servant has handed the PM her findings on Partygate, although sources stressed that it is not her full conclusions due to a request from police.
The document is not expected to name more junior staff, and will only have ‘minimal reference’ to incidents under criminal investigation.
Mr Johnson has promised to release the watered down report and make a Commons statement, expected this afternoon.
‘We can confirm that Sue Gray has provided an update on her investigations to the Prime Minister,’ a Cabinet Office spokesman said.
Mr Johnson is said to feel ‘reassured’ that the threat of a successful coup by Tory backbenchers has receded, with allies rallying and MPs saying that anger from constituents is not as bad as they feared.
He has been assisted by fledgling signs of a recovery in the polls – although the Conservatives are still trailing Labour.
It has emerged that police are likely to hand out any fixed penalty notices to lockdown breachers without making their names public – an approach that could limit embarrassment.
But there is still the potential for the situation to flare up dramatically, with Ms Gray understood to have been told about a ‘victory party’ held by friends of Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie in the No11 flat to mark the resignation of Dominic Cummings.
Mr Johnson has also come under fire from an ex-No10 official who says he vetoed plans to allow bereaved families to set up bubbles with their close relatives when restrictions began to ease last year.
Asked on a visit to Essex about fears the inquiry will be a ‘whitewash’ because of the changes, Mr Johnson said: ‘You are going to have to wait and see both what Sue says and of course what the Met says.’
The Prime Minister was also questioned about reportedly telling MPs privately he thinks he has done nothing wrong.
‘You’re going to have to wait and see the outcome of the investigations, but of course I stick absolutely to what I’ve said in the past,’ he told reporters at a freeport in Tilbury.
In other developments during more political chaos in Westminster:
- Mr Johnson is expected to visit Eastern Europe this week amid desperate efforts to defuse the standoff with Russia over Ukraine;
- New government sanctions are being unveiled that could target oligarchs linked to Vladimir Putin;
- Former Cabinet minister Lord Frost has dismissed suggestions he could become the PM’s new chief of staff in a ‘reset’ after the Partygate report, saying he does not agree with the national insurance hike;
- Dominic Cummings has stepped up his attack on Mr Johnson branding him a ‘babbling f***wit’ and saying getting him out of No10 is like ‘fixing the drains’.
An increasingly-confident Boris Johnson is bracing for the Sue Gray report today as it emerged that Downing Street lockdown breakers might never be identified by police
Sue Gray is believed to be on the verge of delivering her findings on Partygate to the PM, who has promised to publish them and make a Commons statement soon afterwards
The issues that could take the heat off Boris over Partygate
Russia threatening to invade Ukraine
Vladimir Putin has massed forces on the border of Ukraine, with the UK and US convinced an invasion is imminent.
Boris Johnson is expected to speak to Mr Putin later, and visit the region himself imminently.
Compulsory Covid vaccination for NHS staff
The government is preparing to U-turn on making vaccination mandatory for NHS staff.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid is due to make an announcement later this afternoon.
The topic has been a flashpoint with libertarian Tory MPs, and it will be a popular shift.
Cost of living crisis
Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been desperately putting together a package that could ease the pain of soaring inflation and energy bills for families.
The PM and Chancellor finally seemed to kill off the idea of delaying the £12billion national insurance hike beyond April over the weekend.
Ministers have also played down the prospect of a ct to VAT on energy bills. But there is set to be more targeted support for the poorest households.
Chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke said in a round of interviews this morning that the report is ‘imminent’.
‘I believe it will be soon,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
‘The precise timing of all of this is a matter for Sue Gray.
‘It is a completely independent process and I do not know precisely when she will bring that report forward.’
Nikka da Costa, Mr Johnson’s former director of legislative affairs, wrote in The Times that the PM had shot down plans to allow bereaved families to set up bubbles with their close relatives when last year’s lockdown restrictions began to ease over fears it would ‘send the wrong message to the public’.
Costa said the veto came just weeks before Downing Street staff held two booze-filled leaving parties on the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
The former No10 official said she was ‘angry’ when she hears allies of Mr Johnson to ‘get a sense of proportion’ in response to allegations of No10 parties.
‘If we in No 10 could be that hard-hearted because we thought it was the right thing to do, then those involved in those kinds of decisions also owed it to the country to be as hard on themselves and their own conduct,’ Costa wrote.
She added: ‘If No 10 failed in that as a collective, as it seems clear, it needs to be recognised as a failure of and by those at the top.’
The Mail on Sunday revealed that as part of her inquiry into socialising in Mr Johnson’s No 10 flat, Ms Gray has been told about a ‘victory party’ held by friends of Carrie.
The bash allegedly happened on the night of November 13, 2020, after Dominic Cummings had left with his belongings in a box.
He had allegedly lost a power struggle with the then Ms Symonds and other advisers.
‘There was the sound of lots of banging and dancing and drinking, and a number of Abba tracks – including a triumphalist Winner Takes It All,’ a source said.
A spokesman for Mrs Johnson said: ‘It is totally untrue to suggest Mrs Johnson held a party in the Downing Street flat on November 13, 2020.’
In the latest twist of the lockdown party drama enveloping Westminster, it emerged that Miss Gray’s probe has been told about alleged messages from Carrie Johnson offering to organise a cake for the PM’s 56th birthday party in June 2020
Mr Johnson arriving back at Downing Street yesterday after spending the weekend at his Chequers residence
METROPOLITAN POLICE SAYS ‘MINIMAL REFERENCE’ WILL BE MADE TO NO 10 EVENTS IN SUE GRAY REPORT
Commander Catherine Roper, who leads the Met’s Central Specialist Crime Command, said: ‘My officers will now examine this material in detail to establish whether individuals attending the events in question may have breached the regulations. They will do so without fear or favour following our normal processes.
‘In order to protect the integrity of the police investigation, as is appropriate in any case, and to be as fair as possible to those who are subject to it, the Met has asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report to the relevant events.
‘This will only be necessary until these matters are concluded, and is to give detectives the most reliable picture of what happened at these events. We intend to complete our investigations promptly, fairly and proportionately.
‘We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.
‘The offences under investigation, where proven, would normally result in the issuing of a fixed penalty notice; accordingly our investigative actions will be proportionate to the nature of these offences.
‘Individuals who are identified as having potentially breached these regulations will normally be contacted in writing, and invited to explain their actions including whether they feel they had a reasonable excuse.
‘Following this process, and where there is sufficient evidence that individuals have breached the regulations without reasonable excuse, officers will decide if enforcement action is appropriate. If the decision is to take enforcement action then a report will be sent to the ACRO Criminal Records Office which will issue the fixed penalty notice. Recipients can pay the fixed penalty and the matter will be considered closed.
‘Should a recipient dispute the fixed penalty notice then the case will be referred back to the Met where officers will consider whether to pursue the matter in a magistrates’ court.
‘As the Commissioner said, we will not be giving a running commentary but we will continue to update when significant progress is made in the investigative process.’
The Metropolitan Police could now investigate the party as part of its probe, and call on Mrs Johnson to provide written evidence.
Meanwhile, it has been claimed that a tipsy Downing Street staffer boasted to police that they ‘we’re the only ones allowed to party’ as they left one gathering.
A witness is claimed to have reported the jibe to Ms Gray’s inquiry, according to the Sun.
Last week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick announced officers have launched a criminal inquiry after assessing a dossier of evidence compiled by Ms Gray.
The police inquiry is expected to focus on eight of the parties looked at by Ms Gray.
But the force has clarified it is looking at potential Covid breaches that are dealt with by fixed-term penalty notices.
The Times highlighted that staff are unlikely to be publicly identified if they accept a penalty notice and do not contest the breach in court.
Under police guidance, individuals are only named if they are charged and expected to appear in court.
Scotland Yard admitted last week it had asked Whitehall’s ethics tsar to ‘water down’ her document while the force conducts a criminal probe that may not conclude for months.
The highly controversial move has seen Metropolitan Police chief Cressida Dick accused of ‘an abuse of power’ by ‘interfering’ with the investigation and demanding that Miss Gray remove key details which are central to the row over ‘parties’ in No10.
It is understood that the senior civil servant will give Mr Johnson a redacted version of her report, rather than wait for the Met’s inquiry to end.
But Conservative MPs are now urging Ms Gray to make her report available to the public in full, in a bid to ‘end this madness’.
Meanwhile, Labour called for Mr Johnson to finally ‘end the circus’ over partygate.
Shadow minister Lisa Nandy said: ‘There are a lot of bereaved families, there are a lot of people who made huge sacrifices who deserve to hear the truth from the Prime Minister.
‘If he won’t put an end to this circus then that report has to come out in full so that people can judge for themselves.’
Despite the apparent easing of the crisis for Mr Johnson, leadership jockeying is in full swing.
Tom Tugendhat has become the first Conservative MP to declare his intention to run in a leadership contest.
Asked in a Times Radio interview whether he would like to be Prime Minister, the Tonbridge & Malling MP said: ‘It would be a huge privilege.’
He added: ‘It’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward. And it’s up to the electorate, in the first case parliamentary colleagues, and in the second case the party, to choose.’
The former soldier added: ‘There isn’t a vacancy at the moment’, and insisted he had not been canvassing support.
Jeremy Hunt, the former Foreign Secretary who came second to Mr Johnson in the 2019 leadership contest, recently said his ambition to be leader had not ‘completely vanished’.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss are expected to be the frontrunners in a contest, with other potential contenders including Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and former Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt.