Minister condemns ‘playing politics’ briefing against Sue Gray ahead of partygate report | Politics News


A government minister has condemned anonymous briefing against Sue Gray, the senior civil servant preparing to publish her long-awaited report into Downing Street parties.

Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, was asked by Sky News’s Kay Burley to respond after the Daily Mail quoted an insider saying that she was “playing politics” and “enjoying the limelight a little too much”.

Asked whether he would condemn the briefing against her, he said: “I would.

“By repute she is one of the most fiercely independent and professional civil servants in the whole of government and brings a vast range of experience to bear, so I don’t think there is any politics.”

Politics hub: Number 10 ‘relaxed’ about Sue Gray report

The comments came as controversy swirled over details of a secret meeting – first reported by Sky News on Friday night – between Boris Johnson and Ms Gray ahead of her report’s publication.

Contradictory accounts of who instigated the meeting have emerged from each camp.

Mr Clarke maintained that it was Ms Gray – and that it would have been “churlish” of the prime minister to turn her down.

He also defended the integrity of the report and said it would be wrong to infer from reports about the meeting that pressure had been placed on her.

Asked whether Mr Johnson’s position could come under threat as a result of the report, he said: “My faith in the prime minister is absolute.”

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PM ‘never intervened’ with Sue Gray

The publication of Ms Gray’s findings will come after the Metropolitan Police last week concluded its investigation into allegations of lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.

It said 126 fines were to be issued to 83 people. The prime minister, his wife and the chancellor each received one fixed penalty notice relating to a birthday gathering in June 2020 – and have all apologised.

Reports suggest that Ms Gray’s report will feature photographs of illegal gatherings.

It is understood Mr Johnson and Ms Gray met at least once for an update on the report’s progress while it was being drafted, but a Whitehall source said its contents were not discussed at any point.

The exact nature of the talks remains unclear.

A Number 10 source has insisted the request for the meeting did not come from Mr Johnson while a spokesman for the inquiry has denied that Ms Gray initiated it.

Mr Clarke told Sky News: “My understanding is that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray… he wasn’t the one instigating it.

“There are lots of practical questions here which need to be bottomed out in terms of, for example, who can be named in this report and the extent to which photographic evidence can be included.

“I think it is important that those practical dimensions are resolved.

“Do I think in any way that the integrity of this report should be questioned?

“No, because Sue Gray has a reputation which dates back decades in terms of her ability to make judgments without fear or favour and I think she will absolutely deliver it on that basis.”

Mr Clarke said the meeting with the prime minister “will have been, in essence, to receive an update”.

He added: “I don’t think in any way it would have been improper and indeed it would have been somewhat churlish to have declined to have met.

“I do not believe that this meeting was anything other than a discussion of the technicalities of the process and I think it would be genuinely wrong to impugn that there has been any pressure put on the nature of this report in any way.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner called on the prime minister to “urgently explain” why the “secret meeting” with Ms Gray took place.


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