Sue Gray’s inquiry into alleged lockdown breaches in No 10 could be released as soon as this week after the Metropolitan police said they would not stand in the way of publication.
No 10 has said, subject to legal advice, that it would not block any publication, clearing the way for Boris Johnson to face damaging allegations about his conduct and the behaviour of his staff amid the new police investigation.
Johnson does not believe he broke the law, his spokesperson said. The government had indicated it had expected Gray’s report to be delayed – as per the terms of reference – given the Met police inquiry. But sources said Gray would proceed if there was no legal objection.
The Met did not raise any objection on Tuesday to the publication of Gray’s report, separate sources with knowledge of its discussions said.
The latest moves emerged after hours of confusion following Cressida Dick’s surprise announcement that the Met had launched a criminal inquiry into a number of alleged Downing Street and Whitehall parties.
Initially, No 10 told reporters it could publish the aspects of Gray’s findings that related to gatherings that were not being investigated by the police, while the Met was carrying out its work. “My understanding is that she can publish those elements that are not subject to further work,” a No 10 spokesperson said.
But later the spokesperson said discussions between the inquiry team and police were ongoing on what could be published from the Gray inquiry and that there was no intention to block publication.
Speaking to MPs on Tuesday, Johnson said he welcomed the Met’s investigation and that the internal inquiry had involved sharing information.
“That process has quite properly involved sharing information continuously with the Metropolitan police, so I welcome the Met’s decision to conduct its own investigation because I believe this will help to give the public the clarity it needs and help to draw a line under matters.”
Asked if the prime minister was willing to be questioned by the police, Johnson’s spokesperson said: “Anyone asked to will cooperate fully, as you would expect.”
Pressed on whether Johnson believes he had broken the law, he replied: “It’s fair to say he does not.”
The prime minister had been forewarned about Dick’s announcement, Downing Street conceded, but he did not inform cabinet colleagues, instead using this morning’s cabinet meeting to urge them to “go further and faster in driving forward the government’s reform agenda”.
The news broke during a cabinet meeting after which it emerged Johnson had been told about the impending announcement from Dick but had not told his cabinet. Asked why cabinet ministers were not told about the police investigation, the prime minister’s spokesperson said: “From what I understand it’s important not to pre-empt a police statement on this sort of issue at any point.
“That was the judgment the prime minister made. It was at that stage unclear exactly at what point the Met would make that statement and obviously the prime minister will continue to discuss any relevant issues with his cabinet.”
The spokesperson added: “I think it’s understandable that, given the sensitive nature of what the Met were due to announce, it’s right that wasn’t pre-empted in any way.”
Tory MPs lined up to defend the prime minister during an urgent question on the investigation, asked by Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner. The Conservative MP Giles Watling described the urgent question as a “vexatious waste of everybody’s time” but was forced to withdraw his claims by the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who decides urgent questions.
Sir Edward Leigh said: “When Europe stands on the brink of war and there is a cost of living crisis can we please have a sense of proportion over the prime minister being given a piece of cake in his own office by his own staff.”
ITV News reported on Monday night that up to 30 staff gathered in the cabinet room with picnic food from M&S to sing happy birthday to the prime minister and give him birthday cake in June 2020. The event, which No 10 has denied was a party, was attended by his wife, Carrie, and the interior designer Lulu Lytle.