The Cabinet Office is weighing up whether to publish its report into the “partygate” scandal after the Met Police asked Sue Gray to make “minimal reference” to the Downing Street gatherings they are probing.
Scotland Yard said it wants to avoid “prejudice” to their investigation into various alleged boozy bashes in Downing Street and Whitehall during lockdown.
The intervention has left the Cabinet Office weighing up whether to publish its findings until after officers have completed their inquiry.
Talks were ongoing on Friday morning the Standard understands and Ms Gray's team have not ruled out finalising a version for publication.
But it is understood whatever is published will take into account Scotland Yard’s request.
In an unexpected twist to the “partygate” storm, the force said in a brief statement that it wanted the limits on the Gray report to avoid “prejudice” to its investigation into various boozy gatherings in Number 10 during lockdown.
The intervention appeared to ease the pressure on Boris Johnson as it could delay the report and even if it is published shortly it will almost certainly exclude details of the most serious alleged breaches of Covid laws in Downing Street when Britain was in lockdown or under other Covid restrictions.
However, if it is published, it could identify whether parties, which the Prime Minister attended, are being investigated by police.
In the statement this morning, Scotland Yard said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“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 publication of the senior civil servant’s report into the “Partygate” scandal is believed to have so far been delayed as the Cabinet Office discusses with lawyers and Human Resources what information can be released following detectives launching a probe.
In a bombshell intervention on Tuesday, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said there were grounds to suspect “serious and flagrant” breaches of the law.
She added that her officers were “investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and in Whitehall in the past two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations”.
Ms Gray is thought to have investigated reports of more than a dozen alleged parties, while around six gatherings are reportedly part of the Met investigation.
Officers are believed to have asked for key details to be omitted by Ms Gray while they conduct interviews with witnesses.
However Dame Cressida was today facing criticism for making the demand after originally resisting calls to launch an investigation at all.
People who committed the most serious Covid rule breaches faced fines of £10,000. Cases are dealt with by magistrates, which means there is no threat of prejudicing a jury trial by publishing details of alleged breaches.
Barrister Rupert Myers said: “The Met has absolutely no power or authority to prevent the publication of the Sue Gray report in full. If they’re worried about their investigation, they should get on with their investigation.”
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner added: “How would a factual civil service report about events the police is investigating ‘prejudice’ their investigation?
“Arguably all of this would have been avoided if police had done the sensible thing and begun investigating in December when the allegations emerged. Now we are in public accountability limbo and there is a messy dynamic between the internal Gray report and police investigation.”
However Barrister Andrew Keogh suggested the force could be probing more serious issues, including withholding or deleting evidence. “Everyone is assuming that the Met is only investigating ‘Cake Gate’, he tweeted.
“What recent history tells us is that mobile phone loss and data deletion across the Westminster estate appears to be a lot higher than the national average....Perhaps there is a more serious issue.”
The delay to the Gray report may have quelled the anger of backbench Tory MPs who voiced their disquiet with the PM during “Partygate” and scandals over lobbying, the Downing Street flat refurbishment and the Government writing off billions of pounds of Covid loan fraud when the country faces a cost of living crisis.
When asked why the Gray report hand-in had been delayed technology minister Chris Philp told LBC today: “You will have to ask Sue Gray that, because the timing of the report is up to her. “You will have seen, as I have seen, press speculation is it is because she’s discussing with lawyers and police exactly what can and can’t go in it.”
Mr Philp added: “Like everybody else, I’m just going to wait until it is published, I’ll read it very carefully when it comes out and I’m not going to speculate... about what the report may or may not contain and what that may or may not mean.
“Let’s just wait until it comes out. Hopefully it will be soon because I think all of us want to be able to draw a line under this.”
It comes as former prime minister Theresa May launched a scathing intervention over the partygate scandal, saying “nobody is above the law”.
Speaking to the Maidenhead Advertiser, Mrs May said she was “angry” to hear reports that Downing Street staff had held parties during lockdown.
“I have said previously that it is vital that those who set the rules, follow the rules,” she said. “Nobody is above the law.
This is important for ensuring the necessary degree of trust between the public and government.” Mr Johnson has promised the official report will be published “in full”. But the prime minister said he did not know when the findings would come out.
“We’ve just got to let the independent inquiries go on,” he said on Thursday.