The publication of an official report into Downing Street parties that took place during coronavirus lockdowns is being held up by concerns it could compromise a police investigation, according to Whitehall officials.
The parties have been probed at the request of Boris Johnson, prime minister, by Sue Gray, a senior Whitehall civil servant, who concluded her work earlier this week.
But Gray has yet to send her report to Downing Street, and one Whitehall official said the announcement on Tuesday of a Metropolitan Police investigation into Whitehall parties held during Covid-19 restrictions had thrown a “major spanner into the works”.
Government insiders said the Met’s investigation was mainly responsible for the delay in publishing Gray’s report, because of concerns it might undermine the police work.
The force confirmed on Thursday evening that it had asked for only “minimal reference” to be made in the Cabinet Office’s report to the events it was investigating. Those are reported to be the eight events that the force has assessed as being most likely to warrant some kind of criminal sanction.
However, the Met insisted it had made no requests about the multiple, less serious events expected to feature in the report.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed,” the force said. “But we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
Labour and some Conservative MPs have expressed fears the report, which is expected to examine gatherings that the prime minister attended during lockdown, could be watered down.
Johnson on Thursday said the Gray report would be published “in full”, adding he was “absolutely not” seeking to delay its publication.
The report had been expected to be published on Wednesday, but government insiders said the timetable could slip to Monday next week or later.
Gray is eager her report is published in full, with as little information redacted as possible, according to colleagues.
“The moment it is sent to Downing Street will be determined by when she’s decided the report is ready to go, not when it might be beneficial or detrimental for the PM,” said one colleague. “We want to get this over the line as quickly as possible.”
Johnson has admitted attending a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, during England’s first lockdown, but has said he thought it was a work event. He also had a birthday party in June 2020 in Downing Street.
Number 10 could not say when the Gray report would be published. “We haven’t got it and we haven’t had an indication of when it’s going to come,” said one Downing Street official.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour leader, said Gray’s report should be published in full, adding the party would explore parliamentary procedures to ensure the entire document was put in the public domain.
“We will pursue every option to make sure that report is out in full,” he added.
Mark Harper, a former Conservative chief whip and critic of Johnson, said: “The report must be published in full. Any attempt to conceal or suppress crucial details would be wrong.” His comments on Twitter were endorsed by former Tory minister Steve Baker.
Meanwhile, ministers involved in Johnson’s successful 2019 bid for the Conservative leadership have used the delay in the publication of Gray’s report to try to shore up support for him among Tory MPs.
The ministers include Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, transport secretary Grant Shapps, and Brexit minister Chris Heaton-Harris, and they have told Conservative MPs that Johnson is determined to fight for his job.
“If you think Boris is about to go, think again,” said one Johnson ally, describing the message to MPs. “If you’re going to have an opportunistic decapitation, he’s going nowhere.”
Johnson’s allies are hoping that a no-confidence vote in the prime minister after the Gray report may be avoided.
A total of 54 Tory MPs must submit letters requesting such a vote to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservatives, for one to happen. “We are nowhere near 54 letters,” said one Johnson supporter.
The prime minister’s allies have asked MPs to “give him space” to reshape his much-criticised Downing Street operation.