A Cabinet minister has insisted he doesn’t know who called a controversial meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray over the senior official’s crucial Partygate report.
The Prime Minister is under pressure to “urge to explain” why the talks have taken place, with Labor arguing public confidence in the process has already been “exhausted” and that people “deserve to know the truth”.
The pair are understood to have met at least once to update on the document’s progress while it was being drafted, but a Whitehall source said its contents were never discussed.
The exact nature of the talks remains unclear.
Such meetings were not considered unusual, the source said, to take stock of the status of the report.
It was originally reported by the BBC that the discussions touched on whether photos would be made available to the public and that Ms Gray initiated the meeting “to clarify her intentions”, which would happen after the police investigation was completed.
However, a spokesperson for the Gray Inquiry disputed this account of events.
A No.10 source insisted the request for the meeting did not come from Mr Johnson.
It was reported that the idea was actually suggested by a No. 10 official while Ms Gray’s calendar invitation was being sent.
This version of events was confirmed to the PA news agency by a source close to the investigation, but the circumstances that led to the talks remain uncertain.
On Sunday, Education Minister Nadhim Zahawi repeatedly failed to say who called the meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray and admitted he did not know the answer.
He insisted the Prime Minister “never interfered with the senior official’s investigations” and that Ms Gray’s integrity was “undeniable”.
However, he could not say who called the meeting or what was discussed.
He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I can only tell you the meeting that took place between Sue Gray and the Prime Minister – I can’t tell you who called the meeting.”
He later added, “I don’t know who called the meeting.” When asked what was discussed, he also said, “I don’t know.”
Asked if he couldn’t say who called the meeting because he didn’t ask No. 10 or because he wasn’t told, Mr Zahawi said: “(I’ll) tell you what the answer is, the answer is very simple.
“The answer is that the Prime Minister will never interfere in Sue Gray’s investigation. Basically, the Prime Minister wants Sue Gray to go wherever the evidence takes her.”
He later told the BBC Sunday morning program that he didn’t ask No 10 who called the meeting because he didn’t think it was necessary.
Asked if he had called Downing Street to sort out the matter, Mr Zahawi said: “I don’t have to because I don’t think meeting your senior official is essential to the outcome.
“This officer is independent in his investigation and demonstrates the highest level of professionalism and integrity.
“The Prime Minister has made it very clear that he has never intervened or will seek to intervene or interfere in the investigation.”
It comes as about 30 people, including Mr Johnson, are being contacted by the Cabinet Office to warn them of the contents of the document ahead of its expected release next week.
Most of the letters are believed to have been sent out on Thursday, as the Metropolitan Police concluded their investigation into lockdown violations at Downing Street and Whitehall.
Labor Deputy Leader Angela Rayner has urged the PM to “urge to explain” why the “secret meeting” with Ms Gray took place.
Downing Street insisted Mr Johnson had been “clear throughout” that the report should be “entirely independent”.
Speaking to LBC on Sunday, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan defended Ms Gray as a “clear head” and “independent spirit”.
Like Mr Zahawi, she said she did not know who organized the meeting with Mr Johnson, adding: “I don’t follow anyone’s diaries.”
Asked if the details of who called the meeting should be explained to the public, she said: “I’m not sure it makes a difference to me.
“I don’t think Sue is one to be pushed around.
“She is an amazing, very clear, strong and independent woman and she will publish whatever report she sees fit, as the Prime Minister originally asked her to do.”
Labour’s shadow finance secretary Pat McFadden said he had “complete confidence” in the senior official’s integrity.
He told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “We don’t know the details of that meeting, it’s not clear who called it, there are various accounts of it so it’s hard for me to say what was said there.
“I have faith in her integrity and will see what she says when the report comes out.”
https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/sue-gray-prime-minister-boris-johnson-nadhim-zahawi-annemarie-trevelyan-b2084585.html Cabinet minister insists he doesn’t know who called the Johnson-Gray meeting