Published: 14:43, 28 January 2022
| Updated: 14:45, 28 January 2022
A Kent MP has accused Scotland Yard of creating a "farce" by asking the probe into rule-breaking Downing Street parties to make “minimal reference” to incidents it is investigating.
Conservative Sir Roger Gale made the claim in the wake of revelations Metropolitan Police bosses have told Sue Gray to “avoid any prejudice to our investigation”, as she compiles her findings into alleged government Covid breaches.
Despite this, the force insists officers have not asked for the senior civil servant’s report to be delayed, or placed any further restrictions on other events.
Boris Johnson continues to anxiously wait for the document to be completed, as it has the potential to trigger a vote of no confidence in his leadership by Tory MPs angered by the reported rule-breaking.
In a statement, Scotland Yard said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
The statement indicates Ms Gray will either have to make significant changes to the document before its publication, or delay it until officers conclude their inquiry.
And Sir Roger, who represents Kent constituency North Thanet in the House of Commons, has suggested this has the potential to undermine the report.
Taking to Twitter, the veteran Tory said: "A Whitehall farce created in Scotland Yard.
"'You can release your report, but you cannot refer to the details upon which it is based' - pure genius."
Sources close to the inquiry have previously indicated Ms Gray was concerned about the prospect of releasing a report that was shorn of key details.
Officers have not confirmed how many events they are investigating, but reports suggest it could be as many as eight.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, conceded that “any issues of prejudice have got to be worked through”.
But he told broadcasters during a visit to Glasgow: “What I want to see is Sue Gray’s report in full and the investigation finished as quickly as possible.
"We’re in this situation where government is paralysed because the police are looking at what the Prime Minister was getting up to in Downing Street.”
Fran Hall, whose husband served in the police for more than three decades before dying with coronavirus, accused the Met of letting bereaved families down as the Gray inquiry becomes “a circus”.
The spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: “Tragically, it seems here that the Metropolitan Police have broken the trust of the public by first refusing to investigate flagrant law-breaking, and now demanding any other investigations hide the most serious illegalities happening at Downing Street.
“It’s incredibly painful and they have let families like mine down. My husband was completely committed to justice, and he would have been appalled by this.”
Legal experts have also questioned how publication of the Gray inquiry could possibly prejudice a criminal investigation.
Asked if Number 10 has had any conversations with the Met about what can be published, a spokesman for Mr Johnson said: “No, not that I’m aware of.”
Pressed whether Downing Street has had any similar conversations with the Cabinet Office, the spokesman replied: “It’s completely a matter for the investigation team to decide what’s in the report.”
Battling to stay in office, Mr Johnson is reportedly considering delaying a rise in National Insurance intended to cover social care reforms and tackle the NHS backlog, in order to sooth backbench Tory anger.
So far seven Tory MPs have publicly called for Mr Johnson to quit, but others are believed to have done so privately in letters to the chairman of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee.
If the number of letters received hits 54, representing 15% of all Tory MPs, then a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister’s leadership will be triggered.