Prime Minister shakes up No 10 operation after police conclude partygate probe
Boris Johnson’s has shaken up his Downing Street operation in a move announced just hours after the Metropolitan Police confirmed officers had completed their “partygate” inquiry.
The Prime Minister wasted no time in reforming his team after being told he would face no further action over the lockdown rule breaches which resulted in 126 fines being dished out.
The move comes ahead of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report, which is expected next week, into the events held in No 10 and Whitehall during England’s coronavirus lockdowns.
Officials confirmed that the Prime Minister will effectively be given his own distinct office as he looks to get a grip on what Ms Gray’s interim report called “failures of leadership and judgment” that allowed rule-breaking gatherings to take place.
A Government spokesman said: “As we set out earlier in the year, steps are being taken to further strengthen the operation of both No 10 and the Cabinet Office so they are best placed to deliver for the public now and in the future.
“Work to deliver these plans is ongoing.”
The changes will see reporting structures overhauled, with the teams in No 10 and the Cabinet Office separated into two groups, officials said.
The existing No 10 operation, alongside teams in the Cabinet Office supporting Mr Johnson and his top table of ministers, will be placed in a group led by Samantha Jones, the No 10 permanent secretary brought in from the NHS in February, to “enhance the support that is offered to the Prime Minister and to the Cabinet”.
The shift looks to be part of a continued overhaul of No 10 as Mr Johnson looks to move his premiership on from the parties controversy.
Scotland Yard said on Thursday it had issued 126 fixed-penalty notices (FPNs) to 83 people at events in Downing Street and across Whitehall spanning eight separate days.
A minister said the Prime Minister, who received one fine alongside his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, had accepted that the lockdown breaches had damaged him and his administration – a view also expressed by former Conservative leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “Not only do I agree with that, the Prime Minister has agreed with that.”
He pointed to the appointment of Ms Jones and the decision to bring in Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay as chief-of-staff as examples of ways Mr Johnson had looked to “streamline the operation” in No 10 since the claims first broke.
“What Iain said was what I think we all agree with, that this has not been a good period, there are lessons to learn,” Mr Burns continued.
“Some of the lessons the Prime Minister has not only already learned but he has responded to and made changes.”
Mr Burns was the ally who famously described the Conservative Party leader as having been “ambushed with a cake” on June 19 2020 during his own birthday bash, held in No 10’s Cabinet room despite indoor gatherings being prohibited at the time.
Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and Mr Sunak received a fine each for attending the event as part of Scotland Yard’s probe into allegations of coronavirus rule breaches at the top of Government.
No 10 said officers had told Mr Johnson he would not receive a second fine and it is understood Mrs Johnson was told the same, while Mr Sunak is yet to receive another FPN.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case also escaped the investigation unscathed in terms of receiving an FPN.
The head of the civil service had opted to recuse himself from running the inquiry later headed up by Ms Gray after reports of a Cabinet Office Christmas party surfaced.
The conclusion of the £460,000 police inquiry into events spanning over 11 months paves the way for the potentially damaging publication of Ms Gray’s inquiry, which had been put on hold while police carried out their work.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson will “talk in more detail” about the scandal after the report is published.
A veteran Tory MP said the threat of the official’s report and the current trouble over the Northern Ireland Protocol meant Mr Johnson was still not safe from a possible coup and no-confidence vote.
Sir Roger Gale, a critic of the Prime Minister, told Channel 4 News: “I don’t think he is by any means out of the woods.
“I still feel that there is a likelihood of a leadership challenge mounted before the summer recess.”
But Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbench MPs – the group that co-ordinates the no-confidence process and leadership elections – said Mr Johnson had proved his doubters wrong.
The Broxbourne MP, who said in February he would “applaud” the Tory leader standing down, told Channel 4 News: “I think the danger, the trap we all fall into is to underestimate the Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“He is an extraordinary politician and does things other politicians can’t do.”
Following the Met’s announcement, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer repeated his call for Mr Johnson to resign, for setting a culture of “industrial-scale law-breaking” in No 10.