Update on “Gatherings” investigation

No 10 party inquiry to name ‘people in charge’

The official investigation into Downing Street Christmas parties will not blame the junior officials who organised them but will instead identify their bosses, Whitehall insiders believe.

Henry Zeffman, Oliver Wright http://www.thetimes.co.uk

Sue Gray, a former Whitehall ethics chief, took charge of the inquiry into alleged rule-breaking last month, shortly after The Times revealed that Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, who had been leading it, had been aware of a Christmas event in his own office.

The inquiry was primarily asked to look into claims that staff at No 10 held a party on December 18, 2020, when London was subject to severe restrictions, but will examine other alleged lockdown breaches too.

It has been widely reported that the December 18 event was organised by civil servants in a WhatsApp group. But Gray is much likelier to find fault higher up the chain of command, senior figures say.

“I don’t think she would reasonably expect an office junior to carry the can for senior people who ended up attending any events,” a source said. “I don’t think she is looking for scapegoats in that sense. If somebody junior was asked to do something that will be reflected, but it will be reflected who asked them to do it.”

Whereas Case’s inquiry was thought to be fairly close to publication before he recused himself, Gray is conducting extensive new interviews. One ally said she was surprised by the limited nature of the work she inherited from Case.

Gray has emailed more than a dozen people, including Downing Street officials, special advisers and departed staff. Some in government expect Gray’s report to be tougher than Case’s would have been. “I think she has to now deliberately go harder than Case because she’s so publicly associated with it,” a source said.

Gray was expected to interview Case in his role as cabinet secretary when the alleged Downing Street parties took place, although he is not accused of having attended them. It is not clear whether Gray has yet done so.

Several people present at the December 18 event have said there was cheese and wine, music and that it went on until 2am. No 10 has denied that it was a Christmas party.

There are suggestions that up to seven lockdown-breaking gatherings took place in November and December 2020. Gray’s investigation will also examine a reported leaving event for a No 10 aide on November 27, which was said to have been attended by Boris Johnson, and a party at the Department for Education. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has said that Gray will be free to investigate other events.

Downing Street staff were also photographed drinking in the No 10 garden during the first lockdown in May 2020. The government has insisted that it was a work meeting. The Cabinet Office declined to comment.