Partygate: Minister refuses to say if No 10 called ‘secret meeting’ with Sue Gray

‘The prime minister does not, did not, and would never, intervene in this report’, Nadhim Zahawi insists

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 22 May 2022 17:44
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Minister refuses to say who called Boris Johnson meeting with Sue Gray

A cabinet minister has refused to say if No 10 called a controversial “secret meeting” with Sue Gray about her Partygate investigation or what was discussed.

Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, ducked multiple questions about who requested the talks, which have prompted the Liberal Democrats to raise fears that the “independent” investigation will be “a stitch-up”.

The revelation that the meeting took place has also triggered an embarrassing clash between Downing Street and Ms Gray’s team, which is furious at the suggestion that she asked for it.

But Mr Zahawi insisted he did not know who called the meeting, while declining to say whether No 10 had refused to give him the information.

“The prime minister does not, did not, and would never, intervene in this report,” he told Sky News.

Labour has warned what it calls a “secret meeting” will further damage confidence in the investigation of the scandal.

Mr Johnson is among around 30 people who have been told by Ms Gray that her report is likely to name them – with a deadline of 5pm on Sunday to lodge any objections.

Publication is expected on Tuesday or Wednesday after the police investigation concluded with a total of 126 fines issued to 83 people, followed by a statement to the Commons by the prime minister.

No 10 also suggested the meeting – around one month ago – focused on whether any of 300 photos of the parties should be included in Ms Gray’s report, something else her team rejected.

Mr Zahawi suggested it did not matter what Mr Johnson discussed with Ms Gray, because her “integrity is beyond question”.

“What’s important, what is material to your viewers, is that Sue Gray has conducted her report independently. That is what your viewers should be concerned about,” he argued.

In a partial climbdown, No 10 later appeared to accept that the meeting could have been instigated by an aide to Mr Johnson – and not by the inquiry head.

Although Downing Street calls the inquiry “independent”, in reality it is an internal process carried out by a person employed by the government.

The pressure on Mr Johnson has eased after he escaped further fines for the No 10 parties on top of the one handed down for his cabinet room birthday celebration in June 2020.

However, the full Gray report could still lift the lid further on what her interim report called the “failures of leadership and judgement” by revealing the communications leading up to the lockdown-busting events.

The prime minister then faces an inquiry by the Commons’ privileges committee to determine whether he lied to parliament, claiming that no laws had been broken in Downing Street.

Under the ministerial code, any minister who knowingly misleads the House of Commons is expected to resign.

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