A Cabinet minister has declined to say whether No 10 called a controversial “secret meeting” with Sue Gray over her Partygate investigation or what was discussed.
Nadhim Zahawi, the education minister, ducked several questions about who requested the talks, prompting fears the “independent” inquiry will be “a sting”.
The revelation that the meeting took place has also sparked an embarrassing clash between Downing Street and Ms Gray’s team, who are furious at the suggestion that she asked for it.
But Mr Zahawi insisted he didn’t know who called the meeting but declined to say whether No 10 refused to give him the information.
“The Prime Minister is not, has not and would never intervene in this report,” he said Sky news.
Labor has warned a so-called ‘secret meeting’ will further damage confidence in the investigation into the scandal, while the Liberal Democrats have raised fears of a ‘spot check’.
Mr Johnson is among around 30 people Ms Gray has told her report is likely to name them – with a 5pm deadline on Sunday to raise objections.
The release is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday after the police investigation concluded with a total of 126 fines imposed on 83 people, followed by a statement from the Prime Minister to the House of Commons.
No10 also suggested that the meeting – about a month ago – focused on whether any of the 300 photos from the parties should be included in Ms Gray’s report, something else her team opposed.
Mr Zahawi suggested it didn’t matter what Mr Johnson discussed with Ms Gray because her “integrity is unquestioned”.
“What’s important to your viewers is that Sue Gray independently prepared her report. That’s what your viewers should be worried about,” he argued.
In a partial relegation, No 10 later appeared to accept that the meeting could have been prompted by an aide to Mr Johnson – rather than the investigator.
Although Downing Street describes the inquiry as “independent”, it is in fact an internal process conducted by a government employee.
Pressure on Mr Johnson has eased after he escaped further fines for the No10 parties, on top of that handed down for his birthday party in Cabinet in June 2020.
However, the full Gray report could still further lift the lid on what its interim report called the “failures of leadership and judgment” by exposing the communications that led to the lockdown-busting events.
The Prime Minister then faces an inquiry from the Commons’ Privileges Committee to see if he lied to Parliament when he claimed no laws had been broken at Downing Street.
Under the Ministerial Code, any minister who knowingly misleads the House of Commons is expected to resign.
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/zahawi-boris-johnson-sue-gray-partygate-meeting-b2084545.html Partygate: Minister refuses to say if No 10 called ‘secret meeting’ with Sue Gray