Partygate revelations were ‘horrifying’, says civil service chief

Inquiry chief Sue Gray put in ‘very difficult’ position by PM’s decision to ask her to lead probe

Simon Case says it is ‘difficult' for civil servants like Sue Gray to pass judgment on ministers

The head of the civil service has said that the scenes of lockdown-breaching revelry and drinking at 10 Downing Street revealed in Sue Gray’s Partygate report were “horrifying”.

Simon Gray confirmed that some officials had resigned from the civil service as a result of the scandal, and said that others were now being subjected to a disciplinary procedure which could have an impact on future promotions.

Speaking to the House of Commons Public Administration Committee, Mr Case said that putting officials like Ms Gray in a position of judging on the behaviour of ministers including Boris Johnson is a “challenge” and should be “avoided whenever possible”.

Ms Gray was put “in a genuinely difficult position” when Mr Johnson chose her to head the Partygate inquiry, he told the cross-party panel.

He said that the post of independent adviser to the prime minister – held by Christopher Geidt until his resignation this month – was created precisely to avoid the “tension” which saw the career civil servant put under intense pressure ahead of the publication of her bombshell report in May.

Mr Case told the Commons Public Administration Committee that no decision has yet been taken by Mr Johnson on whether to replace Lord Geidt with a new adviser on ministerial interests, or to create a different process for investigating alleged ethics breaches in government.

He pointed out that the original terms of reference for the Gray report said that it was for Lord Geidt to determine whether any behaviour uncovered constituted a breach of the ministerial code of conduct. Her report did not include findings on the code, and no subsequent inquiry was launched by the independent adviser.

Giving evidence on propriety and ethics in government, Mr Case appeared distressed as he recalled the misconduct uncovered by Ms Gray’s report.

“Mistakes were made, boundaries weren’t observed, some of the conduct described in Sue Gray’s report would be horrifying in any setting,” he told MPs.

“People have let themselves down, people have apologised. It is difficult.”

He insisted he was not aware of much of the behaviour which came to light in Ms Gray’s report, such as wine being brought into No 10 in a suitcase.

“People didn’t bring this to my attention,” he said. “It’s a matter of deep regret. Some of these things we didn’t know about, and if we had we would have acted on them.”

Mr Case confirmed that he was not personally taking part in the disciplinary process, because his own conduct had formed part of the investigation.

He said that he discussed with colleagues whether he should resign if handed a fixed penalty notice by police, but refused to say what he had decided. In the event, he was not fined.

Committee chair William Wragg said that Ms Gray had been put in an “invidious” position by being asked to investigate someone with power to decide on the future of her career, and demanded to know who had decided the job should go to her.

Mr Case – who had himself initially been given the Partygate job, only to stand down after allegations that he had hosted a lockdown-breaching gathering - responded: “In the end, these are decisions for ministers, and ultimately the prime minister, to take.”

Mr Wragg asked Mr Case how difficult it was for civil servants to conduct investigations into the conduct of the prime minister.

The cabinet secretary replied: “Very difficult and to be avoided whenever possible”.

He added: “The role of the civil service is there to support the government of the day, whilst upholding values. Its function is not to provide some sort of judicial function over ministers.

“The role of independent adviser was actually created in part to deal with that tension.”

And, in an apparent sign of discomfort at the choice of a civil servant to head the inquiry, he told MPs: “When decisions are taken we have to do our utmost to implement these decisions…

“Asking civil servants to do these investigations puts civil servants into a genuinely difficult position.”

Cabinet Office director general of propriety and ethics Darren Tierney told the committee that the department’s permanent secretary Alex Chisholm had asked Ms Gray to remove one individual’s name from her report.

He said that the request was made because of “staff welfare concerns” and that Ms Gray had agreed to remove the name. No other individuals asked to have their identities concealed, he said.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in