New head of No 10 parties investigation ‘unlikely to start from scratch’

The new head of an investigation into alleged rule-breaking Downing Street parties has not “started from scratch” and is unlikely to re-interview all government staff who have already been spoken to about their knowledge of the gatherings, the Guardian has been told.

Sources said that Sue Gray, who took over the probe after cabinet secretary Simon Case recused himself when a Christmas event in his own office was revealed, would more likely “pick up” the existing work and look for “holes” in the testimony provided so far.

In addition, Gray’s attention will have to turn to more gatherings that came to light since the initial probe led by Case began.

Among them was an event revealed by the Guardian attended by prime minister Boris Johnson, his wife and 17 others. Attendees were pictured with cheese and wine in the No 10 garden in spring 2020, when socialising in groups was banned. The prime minister has insisted it was a “work meeting”.

One insider with knowledge of the investigation said they did not expect everyone already interviewed to have to go through the process again. They characterised the inquiry as “same team, different leader”.

A second government source said Gray was unlikely to “discount anything the team has gathered before”, but that given the final report will be in her name, she would probably go through existing witness evidence to check for “holes” and seek further clarification from some people.

They said Gray was not expected to re-interview everyone for the sake of it, explaining: “She won’t do things by default, she’ll be pragmatic.” The source added that “a different leader can make a team do different things”.

It was initially hoped the parties probe would be concluded by Christmas. However, Case’s decision to step back from his role in it delayed the publication of its findings.

Given there are more gatherings than the three included in the initial remit of investigators, Gray was said to have “a lot more on her plate than Case started with” so she would not have “started from scratch”.

The result of her inquiry is expected to take several more weeks, however it will be made public.

No 10 said the investigation was continuing, but stressed it was an “independent piece of work”.

Asked if Gray would pick up where Case left off, the prime minister’s spokesperson said on Tuesday: “The work was led … through the propriety and ethics team…. She has picked up that and has been briefed by them.”

The Cabinet Office declined to comment, but pointed to the original terms of reference laid down when Case ran the inquiry, which said investigators would “be able to speak to members of staff” and that ministers, special advisers, and civil servants “will be expected to cooperate”.

Gray has a fearsome reputation as a “Whitehall enforcer” and her appointment to lead the probe was seen by many as making it less likely ministers would be able to evade scrutiny over the issue of potentially rule-breaking parties.

However another Whitehall probe into the funding of refurbishments to Johnson’s Downing Street flat is reportedly set to clear him of breaching the ministerial code, fuelling claims of a “whitewash”.

Johnson has denied personally breaking any Covid rules and said the inquiry into the gatherings would be released “as soon as we reasonably can”.

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