Minister accused of ‘half-hearted denial’ over claims No 10 officials tried to dilute Sue Gray report

Brandon Lewis says he doesn’t ‘recognise’ reports that officials tried to edit the Partygate report over Covid rule breaking

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 29 May 2022 11:31
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Cabinet minister Brandon Lewis has been accused of a “half-hearted denial” over allegations senior No 10 officials tried to dilute Sue Gray’s Partygate report and pressured her to make changes.

It comes amid claims the Whitehall mandarin tasked with examining rule-breaking at the heart of government was lobbied by senior civil servants to make changes on the eve of publication.

Up to 30 individuals were due to be identified in the 37-page report it’s claimed, but in the end only 15 were featured.

Certain details were also removed from the report, including references to music being played at an “Abba” party in the prime minister’s flat and the leaving time of attendees, the Sunday Times claims.

Quizzed on on Sky News, the Northern Ireland secretary said he didn’t “recognise any of that”, insisting he wouldn’t in any way “question the independence” of Ms Gray.

He added “nobody has said anything of the sort to me that reflects” the reporting, claiming if Ms Gray was uncomfortable “she wouldn’t be putting reports out”.

“She has put a report out that she is comfortable with, she’s independently minded,” the cabinet minister said.

Pressed a second time on the issue on BBC’s Sunday Morning, Mr Lewis was asked whether anyone in Downing Street placed pressure on Ms Gray to change or water down her report into rule-breaking.

“I have absolute confidence — I know Sue Gray well enough — she has put out a report that she is comfortable with, she is happy with, she had the free reign to take that report where she wanted to take it,” he replied.

Asked for a cast-iron guarantee no pressure was placed on the civil servant to alter the final conclusions, he added: “Not only am I confident of that, but I know that pressure on Sue Gray would not have an outcome.”

According to the report, Samantha Jones, the No 10 permanent secretary, discussed who should be named publicly in the report with Ms Gray’s team ahead of publication.

Sue Gray published her investigation into No 10 parties on Wednesday

It was alleged Ms Jones, the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, and the permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, Alex Chisholm, urged Ms Gray not to publish the names of some of those who attended parties.

A Whitehall source told the paper: “On Tuesday night, one last attempt was made to persuade her [Gray] to omit names from the report, but she made it plain to them the only way that was going to happen was if they issued her with an instruction.”

There has been no official comment from No 10 since the reports emerged, but Downing Street and Cabinet Office sources denied that any edits were made by Mr Barclay — the prime minister’s chief-of-staff.

A No 10 source said: “It is untrue that anyone on the political side saw anything in advance or sought to influence it”.

Earlier this week, the prime minister’s official spokesperson insisted that “no part of the report had been changed by No 10”.

The Cabinet Office also rejected claims the report was edited due to pressure or that any events were not investigated because of requests made by senior figures.

They referred back to the wording of the report where Ms Gray explained her rationale for halting her probe into what happened in the flat Mr Johnson shares with his wife Carrie.

There was no mention in her report of The Winner Takes It All and other Abba songs reportedly heard blaring from the Downing Street residence after the departure of Dominic Cummings, who was formerly the PM’s chief adviser, was announced on 13 November, 2020.

Carrie Johnson was reportedly at the November event but was not named by Ms Gray in relation to the flat gathering.

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Brandon Lewis’ half-hearted denial that Downing Street tried to water down the Sue Gray report simply isn’t good enough.

“Boris Johnson has lied time and again to try and cover up his law-breaking parties and pull the wool over people’s eyes. We can’t trust a word he or his Conservative colleagues say.

She added: “The only way to get to the truth is to make public any correspondence between Downing Street and Sue Gray over her report. People are sick of Boris Johnson’s cover ups and lies, they deserve full transparency now.”

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