Boris Johnson among ‘dozens’ at No 10 named in crucial Partygate report

‘Devastated’ Downing Street staff fear identification will damage careers

Partygate: Boris Johnson's repeated denials and excuses

Boris Johnson is among dozens of Downing Street figures who have been warned they will be named in Sue Gray’s long-awaited report into the Partygate scandal.

The individuals have been given a deadline of Sunday evening to challenge the Whitehall mandarin’s account of their involvement, with sources close to the inquiry team saying that any serious objection could delay publication beyond the planned date early next week.

Staff in No 10 were said to be “devastated” at the prospect of public exposure and possible disciplinary action, which could affect individuals who escaped fines in the Metropolitan Police investigation into lockdown breaches which concluded on Thursday.

Letters are understood to have been sent by Ms Gray’s team on Friday to around 30 people: mostly those who are set to be named in the report but others are also included, and are being asked to confirm that they accept the narrative of incidents in which they were involved.

However, they are not being informed of the conclusions reached by Ms Gray in the crucial section of the document, in which she is expected to cast her verdict on failings of leadership and judgement, as well as the drinking culture inside Downing Street.

The senior civil servant’s team are braced for the possibility of individuals bringing in lawyers to challenge the account presented in her report, which could potentially introduce a delay of weeks.

“The idea that this will come out on Monday or Tuesday is based on everything falling into place at the right moment,” said a source close to the Gray team.

One official who received a letter told The Independent that the message had heightened tension among staff in the days ahead of release of the report – which was initially slated for publication in January but delayed at the last minute by the launch of the police inquiry.

No 10 insiders are fearful that a very detailed description of individual events could see junior staff “outed” by a jigsaw process of deduction and gossip, damaging their future careers.

And there were concerns about the possibility of photos being included in the document. Ms Gray handed more than 300 images to police, some of which are understood to show individuals drinking and dancing or in party gear.

One source told The Independent that, even if faces are pixelated, it would be easy to identify individuals, something which would be “grossly unfair to junior staff who believed they had their bosses’ blessing”.

However, it remains unclear whether the report will include pictures, with suggestions that any images will be used to illustrate factual issues like the size and layout of rooms, rather than to display scenes of revelry.

Ms Gray is expected to focus her most cutting analysis on senior staff, with cabinet secretary Simon Case thought likely to come in for criticism despite avoiding fines in the police probe.

While the Met’s Operation Hillman focused on criminal breaches of lockdown rules, Ms Gray’s remit also covers appropriate workplace behaviour and the leadership shown by senior managers.

It is understood that details from the police inquiry – including the names of those fined and the specific reason for each fixed penalty notice – have not been passed by police to the Gray team. Insiders said they had only the information made public by the Met, though this was not understood to have caused problems in completing the report.

Some junior staff fear that they will face disciplinary action even if they are not named in the report.

“This whole process has lasted for months and destroyed some people’s mental health,” one official told The Independent. “There’s a desperation for it to be over, but people are also terrified.” Photos shared via WhatsApp were, in the view of some fined officials, a key reason why younger female employees seemed disproportionately likely to be fined for attending the same events as senior male peers.

Dave Penman, the head of the FDA civil service union, told The Independent that the “devastating” stress of recent months had played a part in a higher than usual turnover of No 10 staff.

“Politicians operate in the public domain but civil servants are not used to the glare of publicity and some of them would be unable to do their jobs if they were identified,” said Mr Penman.

“Some are afraid of being scapegoated. Being named in this report could be career-defining, even if they have moved out of the civil service. Given the public clamour about this, it could cause issues with employers.

“Some civil servants will have decided to take their police fine and keep their heads down, whether they felt it was justified or not. But with the Sue Gray report, they may face being named or having disciplinary processes.

“Being under this level of scrutiny and pressure had been devastating and that’s why a lot of people have moved on from Downing Street. They wanted out.”

Ms Gray and her team will be working through the weekend to finalise the report in the hope of handing it over to Downing Street early next week. Mr Johnson has promised to publish it as soon as possible and then address MPs in the Commons.

His spokesperson has said that No 10 intends to publish the report in the form it is presented by the senior civil servant, though data protection rules may force some redactions to protect individuals’ privacy.

In his first public remarks on the Partygate scandal since the Met concluded its inquiry with a total of 126 fines, the prime minister said the contents of the report were “entirely” down to Ms Gray.

Mr Johnson, who received only one fine for a birthday party in 2020, insisted that No 10 would put no pressure on her to remove names from the document, telling reporters: “That will be entirely up to Sue Gray and I’ll be looking forward very much to seeing what she has to say, and fingers’ crossed, that will be pretty soon next week.”

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