Allegations that details of an alleged Downing Street party were removed from Sue Gray’s coronavirus rule-breaking investigation have been denied by No 10 sources. The Sunday Times reported that the senior civil servant , which delivered its 37-page report on events in Downing Street and Whitehall during England’s lockdowns on Wednesday, came under pressure from senior figures in Boris Johnson’s team to remove some details and names.
The newspaper said the so-called ‘Abba party’ held in the Prime Minister’s flat on November 13, 2020, was ‘modified’ by Mr Johnson’s chief of staff Steve Barclay at the eve of its publication. It is alleged that an earlier version of Ms Gray’s report referred to the music being played and stated what time the rally ended, but that the information was redacted.
But No 10 and Cabinet Office sources denied any changes had been made by Mr Barclay, who is also the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. A No 10 source said: ‘It is untrue that anyone on the political side saw anything in advance or sought to influence it.’
The Cabinet Office rejected claims that the report had been changed due to pressure or that no events had been investigated due to requests made by senior figures. They referred to wording in the report in which Ms Gray explained why she had halted her investigation into what happened at the flat Mr Johnson shares with his wife Carrie.
Ms Gray discovered that the Prime Minister – who is facing growing calls from Tory MPs to resign over his handling of the so-called partygate affair – attended the mid-lockdown rally with five special advisers, with “some food and alcohol available”. However, she halted her work having gathered only ‘limited’ information when the Metropolitan Police began their investigation.
There was no mention in his report of The Winner Takes It All and other Abba songs which were said to have been heard from the Downing Street residence following the announcement of the departure of Dominic Cummings, who was previously the adviser in head of the Prime Minister, in the midst of a bitter power struggle. Carrie Johnson was reportedly at the November event but was not named by Ms Gray in relation to the flat rally.
The official said she had not investigated for a long time the evening Scotland Yard began its criminal investigation and, once police work was completed, ‘concluded it was neither appropriate nor proportionate’ to advance its own investigations.
Mr Johnson, who received a fixed sentence for attending his own surprise birthday party in June 2020 but not for any other event investigated by police, was questioned by both MPs and journalists to find out if any members of his team were seeking to influence or edit parts of the report regarding the gathering in flat No 11. The Prime Minister said at a press briefing on Wednesday: ‘The first time that I saw the report and read it in its entirety – and as far as I know the first member of my team saw it – was when we received it shortly after 10 a.m. this morning.
“The event in question was a business meeting and…the Metropolitan Police investigated and this is certainly the outcome of their investigation.”
It comes as the number of Tory MPs who publicly said they had submitted letters of censure to the Prime Minister continued to rise. Former Health Minister Steve Brine and Anne Marie Morris have become the latest to announce they have called for a vote on the future of Mr Johnson’s premiership.
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