Boris Johnson asked a top civil servant not to publish a potentially damaging report into the culture of lockdown rule-breaking parties in Westminster, a report has suggested, as the prime minster faced fresh accusations he lied to parliament.
Sue Gray is expected – as early as Tuesday – to make public her investigation into partygate, and is likely to be damning of Johnson’s leadership that led to repeated violations of the rules across No 10 and Whitehall.
On Monday night, The Times reported Johnson suggested to Gray that there was now no need for her to publish her report following the completion of the police investigation.
The paper quoted a Whitehall source as saying: “He asked her was there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there.”
It comes as images emerged of Johnson raising a glass at a Downing Street leaving party during lockdown.
The images – obtained by ITV News – were taken at a do for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020, just days after Johnson had ordered a second national lockdown in England.
Asked last December in the Commons whether there had been a party in No 10 on that date, the prime minister said “no” and added he was sure the rules were followed at all times.
Labour said there was now “no doubt” that Johnson had “lied” to MPs.
Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police is facing questions as to why Johnson was not fined in relation to the event when photographs showed him, drink in hand, alongside a table strewn with food and wine bottles.
There were at least eight other people in the room at a time when people were banned from social mixing, other than to meet one person outside, and at least one individual has received a fixed penalty notice in relation to an event on that date.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper has written to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) calling for it to examine the Met’s Operation Hillman inquiry into events in No 10 and Whitehall.
Supporters of the prime minister have been growing in confidence that he can survive calls for his resignation after receiving just one fine over a gathering the Cabinet Office for his 56th birthday.
In the short term, Johnson’s fate will lie with Tory MPs who will have to decide whether Gray’s findings are sufficiently serious to warrant a push to oust him as leader.
After the pictures emerged, Steve Baker, an influential Conservative MP, shared an NHS campaign poster urging people to obey lockdown rules.
The Brexiteer, who was pivotal in bringing down David Cameron and Theresa May, posted the image of a woman breathing through an oxygen mask with the message: “Look into her eyes and tell her you never bend the rules.”
No comment was added to the image.
In April, Baker, a former minister, called for the prime minister to quit over partygate, telling the Commons: “The prime minister now should be long gone. Really, the prime minister should just know the gig’s up.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross demanded the prime minister explain why he believed his behaviour was “acceptable” when most people would think the pictures published by ITV News were “unjustifiable and wrong”.
Veteran Conservative backbench MP Sir Roger Gale – a long-standing critic of Johnson – said it was clear that he should go.
“It’s absolutely clear that there was a party, that he attended it, that he was raising a glass to toast one of his colleagues. And therefore, he misled us from the despatch box. And, honourably, there is one answer,” he told Times Radio.
His comments were echoed by the former leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, who said Johnson’s position had become untenable.
“There is now photographic evidence that when the prime minister stood up in parliament and was asked directly ‘was there a party in No 10 on this date’ and he replied ‘no’, he lied to parliament,” she told Channel 4 News.
A No 10 spokeswoman said: “The Cabinet Office and the Met Police have had access to all information relevant to their investigations, including photographs.
“The Met have concluded their investigation and Sue Gray will publish her report in the coming days, at which point the prime minister will address parliament in full.”