An unnamed Whitehall source was today quoted in The Times as saying that the prime minister suggested to Ms Gray that she could ditch plans for publication - expected on Wednesday - asking “Is there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there?”
But Mr Johnson’s official spokesperson today said he “did not recognise” the claim.
“The prime minister did not ask her to drop the report or not proceed with the report,” said the spokesperson. “It was the prime minister who commissioned the report and he wants the report to be published.”
Asked whether Mr Johnson suggested that withholding the finished report from publication was an option, the spokesperson replied: “I don’t believe that is correct.”
But he did not specifically deny that the PM may have suggested that there was no need for the report to be released, as details were “already out there”, saying only: “I’m not going to get into line-by-line what may or may not have been said.”
Mr Johnson has repeatedly promised that the Whitehall mandarin’s findings will be made public in as near as possible to the form in which she hands them over to Downing Street. Aides have said it may be necessary to redact some details for data protection reasons.
The row over the meeting came as pressure intensified on Mr Johnson over new photographs showing him toasting a member of staff with wine at a leaving do at No 10 during the Covid-19 lockdown of November 2020.
At Westminster, disgruntled Tory MPs said that the picture, which showed at least seven other people drinking without observing social distancing rules and a table littered with alcohol bottles, was likely to trigger further letters of no confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership.
One MP who is considering submitting a letter to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee told The Independent: “The whole thing is rotten. He’s got to go”.
Downing Street was forced to admit on Monday that Mr Johnson’s meeting with Ms Gray was instigated by No 10 officials, after incorrect briefing over the weekend that the Whitehall mandarin asked to speak with him.
The PM’s spokesperson confirmed that notes were taken of their discussion, but insisted that in line with standard practice they will not be published. He said that the timing and logistics of publication were discussed but not the content of the long-awaited report, which was delayed until the conclusion of the Metropolitan Police inquiry into lockdown-busting parties at No 10 in 2020 and 2021.
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