UK

Downing Street police give ‘extremely damning’ Covid party evidence to Sue Gray

Downing Street police who were on duty when the alleged lockdown-breaking gatherings took place have given ‘extremely damning’ evidence to Sue Gray, according to a source.

Police officers from the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command, who were guarding Downing Street when the illegal gatherings allegedly took place, have provided their accounts to Ms Gray. 

The testimonies, which come just days before Ms Gray releases the findings of her report, have now been described as ‘extremely damning’, according to a source. 

The source went on to claim that while officers could not be compelled to speak to Ms Gray they were ‘only too willing’ to provide cooperate with the probe. 

Boris Johnson meanwhile is sticking to the story that he did not break any lockdown rules at the Downing Street party and is said to be calling MPs in an attempt to drum up more support before the findings of the report are revealed.

The official inquiry into the ‘partygate row’ by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray is expected to be published next week – and there is growing nervousness in Downing Street over what it will reveal.   

It comes as the PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings prepares to be interviewed by Ms Gray on Monday, according to reports.

Downing Street police who were on duty when the alleged lockdown-breaking gatherings which the PM is alleged to have attended took place have been interviewed

The official inquiry into the Partygate row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray is expected to be published next week

The official inquiry into the Partygate row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray is expected to be published next week 

Pictured: Members of parliament are alleged to have attended a garden party in May 2020

Pictured: Members of parliament are alleged to have attended a garden party in May 2020

Yesterday claims emerged that Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie could be dragged deeper into the partygate row amid claims that the probe into illicit gatherings will examine events taking place in the Downing Street flat she shares with the Prime Minister.

Mrs Johnson has already been placed at several ‘work events’ in the No10 gardens in 2020 where drinks were served, in apparent contravention of Covid rules in place at the time.

But in a further blow to the Prime Minister, The Sunday Times reported senior Cabinet Office official Sue Gray had widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were also held in his own official home. 

Last night one source described how they would be ‘very surprised’ if Boris Johnson was still in power by the end of the week.

They told The Telegraph: ‘Met officers have spoken to Sue Gray now, as you would expect, and have been able to provide a lot of information.’

The source added: ‘Put it this way, if Boris Johnson is still Prime Minister by the end of the week, I’d be very surprised.’        

Whitehall heavy hitter Sue Gray is carrying out inquiries into three alleged gatherings at No10 and the Department for Education in November and December last year, when indoor mixing was banned. 

As part of her investigation, the civil servant has spoken to fellow MPs, the Prime Minister, and political advisers.

She has also examined the Prime Minister’s official diary as part of the probe.

Yesterday The Sunday Times reported Ms Gray had widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in Boris Johnson’s own official home.

The paper said that two senior Tory aides, Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone – both said to be friends of Mrs Johnson’s – visited the flat over No 11 on numerous occasions during lockdown.

Initially Ms Gray was said to have accepted the visits were for work purposes, however investigators were reported to have questioned why they were spending so much time in Downing Street when they were working for the Cabinet Office.

Mr Newman is a former protégé of Michael Gove who worked on Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the referendum and is now a senior adviser at No 10. Josh Grimstone is a special adviser to Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove.

Ms Gray has also been given access to data of Downing Staff staff movements in and out of the building, including from their swipecards, the Guardian reported.

The senior cabinet office official is also expected to speak to Mr Cummings about his bombshell claims.

A source told The Mirror that Ms Gray ‘wants the inquiry to be as robust as possible’, adding: ‘Cummings is going to be interviewed by the time the inquiry concludes.’

Mr Cummings has alleged that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year – the day the adviser was ousted from Downing Street. He also suggested there had been ‘other flat parties’. 

Mr Cummings has alleged that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year

Mr Cummings has alleged that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year 

Cabinet Office official Sue Gray has reportedlt widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in Boris Johnson's own official home

Cabinet Office official Sue Gray has reportedlt widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in Boris Johnson’s own official home

Mr Johnson flatly denied Mr Cummings' claim that he lied to Parliament over whether he was warned about the potential lockdown breach in advance

Mr Johnson flatly denied Mr Cummings’ claim that he lied to Parliament over whether he was warned about the potential lockdown breach in advance

Earlier this month the former chief aide also twisted the knife, insisting the PM was ‘destroying his own support’ after he complained that ‘nobody told me’ a ‘BYOB’ bash in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 was not a work event.

As he desperately tries to defuse the crisis, a weary and miserable Mr Johnson flatly denied Mr Cummings’ claim that he lied to Parliament over whether he was warned about the potential lockdown breach in advance.

But he repeatedly ducked saying whether he would resign if a civil service probe finds he did not tell the truth.

How could Boris Johnson be ousted by Tory MPs?  

Boris Johnson is under huge pressure over Partygate, with speculation that he might even opt to walk away.

But barring resignation, the Tories have rules on how to oust and replace the leader. 

What is the mechanism for removing the Tory leader? Tory Party rules allow the MPs to force a vote of no confidence in their leader.

How is that triggered? A vote is in the hands of the chairman of the Tory Party’s backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.

A vote of no confidence must be held if 15 per cent of Tory MPs write to the chairman. Currently that threshold is 54 MPs.

Letters are confidential unless the MP sending it makes it public. This means only Sir Graham knows how many letters there are. 

What happens when the threshold is reached? A vote is held, with the leader technically only needing to win support from a simple majority of MPs

But in reality, a solid victory is essential for them to stay in post.

What happens if the leader loses? 

The leader is sacked if they do not win a majority of votes from MPs, and a leadership contest begins in which they cannot stand.

However, they typically stay on as Prime Minister until a replacement is elected. 

At one point as he was confronted with the fact he needed to apologise to the Queen for a No10 leaving do on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year, the premier bowed his head and breathed heavily for several seconds, before seemingly composing himself and voicing ‘deep regret’ for what happened.

Asked if he had lied as he broke cover for the first time in days, Mr Johnson said: ‘No. 

‘I want to begin by repeating my apologies to everybody for the misjudgments that I’ve made, that we may have made in No10 and beyond, whether in Downing Street or throughout the pandemic.

‘Nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules, that the event in question was something that … was not a work event, and as I said in the House of Commons when I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.’

The comments came as Rishi Sunak fuelled speculation about his unhappiness by stalking out of an interview while being grilled about the Partygate furore and whether he ‘unequivocally’ backed the PM.  

Pushed on whether he believed the premier’s denials that he knew a ‘BYOB’ gathering in Downing Street in May 2020 was a social event, Mr Sunak said: ‘Of course I do.’

But he merely ‘referred’ people to Mr Johnson’s own words when pressed on the details, and challenged on whether Mr Johnson would have to quit if he knowingly misled parliament he said: ‘The ministerial code is clear on these matters.’

Mr Johnson fielded questions during a visit to a north London hospital.

He said: ‘I am deeply sorry for misjudgments that were made. I carry full responsibility for what took place.  

‘Nobody said to me this is an event that is against the rules, that is in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do, it should not go ahead.

‘What I remember is going out into that garden for a short time and for 25 minutes thanking staff who’d worked on Covid, who were continuing to work on Covid, and then going back to office

‘If I had my time again, I would not have allowed things to develop in that way.’

Challenged again on whether he had been verbally warned about the gathering in the Downing Street garden, Mr Johnson said: ‘I can tell you categorically, categorically, that nobody told me and nobody said that this was something that was against the rules or was a breach of the Covid rules or we were doing something that wasn’t a work event because, frankly, I don’t think, I can’t imagine why on earth it would have gone ahead or why it would have been allowed to go ahead.

‘My memory of this event, as I’ve said, is going out into the garden for about 25 minutes for what I implicitly thought was a work event and talking to staff, thanking staff, I can’t remember exactly how many – but for about 25 minutes I was there. I then went back to my office and continued my work.’

He added: ‘I do humbly apologise to people for misjudgments that were made. But that is the very, very best of my recollection about this event.’

On whether he will resign if Ms Gray sets out a different picture, Mr Johnson said: ‘We’ll have to see what she says. I think that she should be given the space to get on and conclude her inquiry.

‘I would urge everybody who has knowledge of this, memories of this, to tell her what they know.

‘Let’s see what the report says.’

This week a senior government source confirmed the ‘scope of the inquiry has broadened’ but suggested that Ms Gray was prepared to accept the explanation offered by Mr Newman and Mr Grimstone.      

Ms Gray is said to be keen to interview all of the people identified as key witnesses in the row to ensure her final report – expected to be published next week – is viewed as credible.

But the mood music in Whitehall is said to be ‘darkening’ as she gathers more evidence. 

Grim YouGov polling has found that 64 per cent of the public now believe Mr Johnson should resign, up from an already-dire 48 per cent in November.

Bur this week Liz Truss insisted that Boris Johnson should continue as Prime Minister for ‘as long as possible’ as Downing Street braced itself for the publication of the Partygate report.

Boris Johnson looked close to tears as he denied lying about Partygate but admitted he was 'deeply sorry' for his 'misjudgements'

Boris Johnson looked close to tears as he denied lying about Partygate but admitted he was ‘deeply sorry’ for his ‘misjudgements’

The source went on to claim that while officers could not be compelled to speak to Ms Gray they were 'only too willing' to provide cooperate with the probe

The source went on to claim that while officers could not be compelled to speak to Ms Gray they were ‘only too willing’ to provide cooperate with the probe

Grim YouGov polling has found that 64 per cent of the public now believe Mr Johnson should resign, up from an already-dire 48 per cent in November

Grim YouGov polling has found that 64 per cent of the public now believe Mr Johnson should resign, up from an already-dire 48 per cent in November

The Foreign Secretary is a leading contender to replace the PM but scotched talk of any leadership contest – despite fears he could be challenged as early as next week.

Mr Johnson is expected to speak to several wobbling Tory MPs this weekend from his country retreat, Chequers, in an attempt to head off any threat. 

Insiders believe similar meetings earlier this week helped defuse the threat of the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ coup by Red Wall MPs.

The official inquiry into the Partygate row by Whitehall ethics chief Sue Gray is expected to be published next week.

She is said to have found an email warning Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, against holding a drinks party in the No 10 garden during the first Covid lockdown.

The email, sent by a senior official, told Mr Reynolds the gathering ‘should be cancelled because it broke the rules’, according to ITV News.

Mr Johnson has admitted attending the gathering in question for 25 minutes on May 20 2020, but insisted he believed it was a work event and that he was not warned it would be against the rules.

Several MPs are said to be waiting until the report is published to decide whether to submit letters of no confidence to 1922 Committee chairman Sir Graham Brady.    

Lockdown… or party time in Whitehall? The alleged gatherings during the pandemic  

Here is a list of the alleged gatherings, which in several cases have been admitted to.

– May 15 2020: Downing Street garden party

Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, were all pictured, in a photograph leaked to The Guardian, sitting around a table in the No 10 garden, with wine and cheese in front of them.

Some 15 other people were also in the photograph, but the Prime Minister has insisted this was a work meeting, saying: ‘Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.’

– May 20 2020: BYOB garden party

The revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from Mr Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees inviting them to ‘bring your own booze’ for an evening gathering.

Multiple reports have suggested the Prime Minister attended the event with his wife.

– November 13 2020: Leaving party for senior aide

According to reports at the time, Mr Johnson gave a leaving speech for Lee Cain, his departing director of communications and a close ally of Mr Cummings.

– November 13 2020: Johnsons’ flat party

There are allegations that the Prime Minister’s then fiancee hosted parties in their flat, with one such event said to have taken place on November 13, the night Mr Cummings departed No 10.

A spokesman for Mrs Johnson has called the claim ‘total nonsense’.

– November 25 2020: Treasury drinks

A Treasury spokesman told The Times that a number of staff had gone into the office to work on the Spending Review.

He said: ‘We have been made aware that a small number of those staff had impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.’

– November 27 2020: Second staff leaving do

The Mirror reported that the Prime Minister gave a farewell speech to an aide at the end of November while the lockdown in England was still in place.

Other reports have said the leaving do was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and ally of Mr Cummings.

– December 10 2020: Department for Education party

The DfE confirmed a social event had happened after The Mirror reported that former education secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and delivered a short speech at an event organised at his department’s Whitehall headquarters.

A spokesman acknowledged that ‘it would have been better not to have gathered in this way at that particular time’.

– December 11 2020: Wine fridge delivered to Downing Street for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’

A fridge with the capacity for 34 wine bottles was delivered through the back door of No 10.

According to sources cited by The Mirror, the fridge became necessary for staff’s ‘wine-time Fridays’ which were held throughout lockdown, with the Prime Minister allegedly encouraging the parties to help aides ‘let off steam’.

The regular social gatherings were reported to be particularly popular among staff between autumn 2020 and spring 2020 when staff were ‘fatigued’ with tough Covid restrictions that banned socialising.

Mr Johnson was said to have attended a ‘handful’ of these gatherings.

– December 14 2020: Party featuring Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and staff

Shaun Bailey apologised ‘unreservedly’ for attending the gathering at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) organised by staff on his campaign team.

‘It was a serious error of judgment at a time when Londoners were making immense sacrifices to keep us all safe and I regret it wholeheartedly,’ he tweeted.

He quit his role chairing the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee after The Mirror published a picture showing him at the gathering.

– December 15 2020: Downing Street quiz

The Prime Minister appeared on contestants’ screens at the quiz but insisted he broke no rules.

An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed Mr Johnson flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in No 10.

Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson ‘briefly’ attended the quiz after the photographic evidence emerged but insisted it was a virtual event.

– December 16 2020: Department for Transport party

The Mirror reported that senior civil servants were ‘boozing and dancing’ at the event, allegedly planned by staff from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ office.

A DfT spokesman said: ‘Fewer than a dozen staff who were working in the office had a low-key, socially distanced gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink was consumed.

‘We recognise this was inappropriate and apologise for the error of judgment.’

– December 17 2020: Cabinet Office ‘Christmas party’

A number of outlets reported that a gathering was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17.

The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in room 103 of the Cabinet Office, that it had been organised by a private secretary in Mr Case’s team, and that it was included in digital calendars as ‘Christmas party!’.

The Cabinet Office confirmed a quiz took place, but a spokesman said: ‘The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office.’

– December 17 2020: Leaving drinks for former Covid Taskforce head

The former director-general of the Government’s Covid Taskforce said she was ‘truly sorry’ over an evening gathering in the Cabinet Office for her leaving drinks during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, who is now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she gathered with colleagues who were in the office that day and added that she is co-operating with the probe by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

– December 18 2020: Christmas party at Downing Street

The claim which kicked off the rule-breaking allegations is that a party was held for Downing Street staff on December 18.

Officials and advisers reportedly made speeches, enjoyed a cheese board, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the Prime Minister is not thought to have attended.

Mr Johnson’s spokeswoman, Allegra Stratton, quit after being filmed joking about it with fellow aides at a mock press conference.

– Run up to Christmas 2020

The Daily Mirror reported that Mr Johnson attended a leaving do for defence adviser Captain Steve Higham before Christmas 2020.

The newspaper alleged the Prime Minister made a speech but No 10 did not respond to a request for comment and the Ministry of Defence declined.

– April 16 2021: Drinks and dancing the night before the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral

The Telegraph reported that advisers and civil servants gathered after work for two separate events on the Friday night.

They were to mark the departure of James Slack, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, and one of the Prime Minister’s personal photographers.

Mr Slack, who left his No 10 role to become deputy editor-in-chief of The Sun newspaper, said he was sorry for the ‘anger and hurt’ caused by his leaving do, while Downing Street apologised to the Queen.

The Telegraph quoted a No 10 spokesman as saying Mr Johnson was not in Downing Street that day and is said to have been at Chequers.

The newspaper reported accounts from witnesses who said alcohol was drunk and guests danced to music, adding that it had been told that around 30 people attended both events combined.

Will CARRIE be interviewed by Sue Gray over Partygate? Boris Johnson’s wife dragged into lockdown scandal over gatherings amid claims two of her close friends visited the PM’s flat several times when social events were banned

  • Mrs Johnson has already been placed at several ‘work events’ in No10 gardens
  • Sue Gray now said to be looking into gatherings in PM’s No11 flat in lockdown
  • Aides Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone said to have visited several times  

 ByDavid Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondentand Nich Enoch For Mailonline

Boris Johnson‘s wife Carrie could be dragged deeper into the Partygate row amid claims that a probe into illicit boozy gatherings will examine events taking place in the Downing Street flat she shares with the Prime Minister.

Mrs Johnson has already been placed at several ‘work events’ in the No10 gardens in 2020 where drinks were served, in apparent contravention of Covid rules in place at the time.

But in a further blow to the Prime Minister, The Sunday Times reported senior Cabinet Office official Sue Gray has widened her inquiry to include allegations that parties were held in his own official home.

The paper said that two senior Tory aides, Henry Newman and Josh Grimstone – both said to be friends of Mrs Johnson’s – visited the flat over No 11 on numerous occasions during lockdown.

Initially Ms Gray was said to have accepted the visits were for work purposes, however investigators were reported to have questioned why they were spending so much time in Downing Street when they were working for the Cabinet Office.

Mr Newman is a former protégé of Michael Gove who worked on Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the referendum and is now a senior adviser at No 10. Josh Grimstone is a special adviser to Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove.

Ms Gray has also been given access to data of Downing Staff staff movements in and out of the building, including from their swipecards, the Guardian reported.   

Boris Johnson's wife could be dragged into the Downing Street parties scandal following reports that two of her close friends - one of whom is Henry Newman - visited the flat she shares with the Prime Minister during lockdown. (Above, Carrie with Mr Newman)

Boris Johnson’s wife could be dragged into the Downing Street parties scandal following reports that two of her close friends – one of whom is Henry Newman – visited the flat she shares with the Prime Minister during lockdown. (Above, Carrie with Mr Newman)

Henry Newman is a former protégé of Michael Gove who worked on Dominic Cummings' Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the referendum and is now a senior adviser at No.10

Josh Grimstone is a special adviser to Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove

Senior Cabinet Office official Sue Gray has received evidence that Josh Grimstone (right) and Henry Newman (left) went to Carrie’s flat several times while Covid restrictions were in place. Mr Newman is a former protégé of Michael Gove who worked on Dominic Cummings’ Vote Leave campaign in the run-up to the referendum and is now a senior adviser at No.10. Mr Grimstone is a special adviser to Levelling-Up Secretary Michael Gove

Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication of the Gray report

Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication of the Gray report

Ms Gray is also said to have been given access to data of Downing Staff staff movements in and out of the building, including from their swipecards

Ms Gray is also said to have been given access to data of Downing Staff staff movements in and out of the building, including from their swipecards

Mr Cummings has alleged that the PM held a gathering at his grace-and-favour flat on November 13 last year – the day the adviser was ousted from Downing Street. He also suggested there had been ‘other flat parties’. 

A senior government source confirmed the ‘scope of the inquiry has broadened’ but suggested that Ms Gray was prepared to accept the explanation offered by Mr Newman and Mr Grimstone.

But a Whitehall source said: ‘Why are two spads [special advisers] from the Cabinet Office going to the PM’s flat to have work meetings with the prime minister without any officials present?’, according to the Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, the information Ms Gray gleans from the No.10 data logs could prove decisive, according to senior Whitehall sources.

A source who knows Ms Gray said: ‘This information is conclusive. This is not someone saying “I saw him or her at a party”. This is the proof of who was where, how many people were inside the building at any one time. She will have been looking at all that information, which is far more valuable than people’s say so. It is the evidence,’ reported the Guardian.

Ms Gray is said to be keen to interview all of the people identified as key witnesses in the row to ensure her final report – expected to be published next week – is viewed as credible. 

But the mood music in Whitehall is said to be ‘darkening’ as she gathers more evidence. 

Sue Gray (above) is reportedly keen to interview all of the people identified as key witnesses in the row to ensure her final report - expected to be published next week - is viewed as credible

Sue Gray (above) is reportedly keen to interview all of the people identified as key witnesses in the row to ensure her final report – expected to be published next week – is viewed as credible

Whitehall sources said the Prime Minister had torn up his diary to talk with wobbling MPs ahead of the expected publication of the Gray report.

Meanwhile, leaked photographs from last year appeared to show the Prime Minister and Carrie attending a ‘cheese and wine’ party held in the No10 garden on May 15, 2020.

Sources have reportedly claimed that Mrs Johnson was drinking with Mr Newman, who is a personal friend and close aide to the Prime Minister. 

The May 15 party is one of several that will be examined during Ms Gray’s enquiry.

The development comes as Carrie Johnson has admitted she breached social distancing rules when she celebrated a friend’s engagement just days after the public were warned to keep their distance from people they were not living with.

Carrie Johnson has admitted she breached social distancing rules when she celebrated a friend's engagement just days after the public were warned to keep their distance from people they were not living with. Mrs Johnson, 33, had been at an engagement celebration for her friend Anna Pinder on September 17, 2020 at The Conduit, a private members' club in Covent Garden, London

Carrie Johnson has admitted she breached social distancing rules when she celebrated a friend’s engagement just days after the public were warned to keep their distance from people they were not living with. Mrs Johnson, 33, had been at an engagement celebration for her friend Anna Pinder on September 17, 2020 at The Conduit, a private members’ club in Covent Garden, London

Both PM Boris Johnson and wife Carrie have faced allegations of attending lockdown-breaching parties that will be investigated by civil servant Sue Gray. Above: Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie, with their daughter Romy and dog Dilyn at Chequers in December

Both PM Boris Johnson and wife Carrie have faced allegations of attending lockdown-breaching parties that will be investigated by civil servant Sue Gray. Above: Mr Johnson and his wife Carrie, with their daughter Romy and dog Dilyn at Chequers in December

Mrs Johnson, 33, had been at an engagement celebration for her friend Anna Pinder on September 17, 2020 at The Conduit, a private members’ club in Covent Garden, London.

Mrs Johnson, whose arm is wrapped around Ms Pinder in a picture that circulated online, appears to laugh with her friend as they pose for the snap on a sofa on the club’s outdoor terrace. 

A spokesman for Mrs Johnson said: ‘Mrs Johnson was one of a group of six seated outside celebrating a friend’s engagement. 

‘Mrs Johnson regrets the momentary lapse in judgment in briefly hugging her friend for a photograph.’ 

At the time, Brits had been warned that the country was on the cusp of a second wave of Covid infections, with 3,395 new cases reported that day, the highest daily total for four months.

Two metre social distancing guidance and the rule of six, meaning groups of more than half a dozen were restricted from meeting for anything other than work, education or weddings and funerals, were also still in place in September 2020. 

Days before the happy friends were pictured smiling together on their night out, the PM hosted a press conference in which he reminded the British public to ‘always stay two metres away from people you don’t live with’ and warned the country was on the cusp of a second Covid wave. 

Two days after the friends met up, Mr Johnson said it was ‘inevitable’ that a second wave would reach the UK as he contemplated six months of ‘on-off’ restrictions to tackle the upsurge in coronavirus cases amid concerns in Downing Street that the public was ignoring rules on social gatherings. 

He had brought in the ‘rule of six’ on Monday, September 14 – three days before Mrs Johnson met her friend – and on September 18 said the only way to avoid a second lockdown was ‘if people follow the guidance’.

Parts of England were also forced back into lockdown, with curbs including a 10pm curfew on pubs and restaurants and a ban on socialising outside of households across the North West, Midlands and West Yorkshire from the following Tuesday. 

A total of around 13 million people were put under the new local restrictions. 

Tory MP Michael Fabricant claims ex-minister Nusrat Ghani is ‘hardly obviously a Muslim’ as Sajid Javid joins Nadhim Zahawi in demanding full probe over her claim she was sacked because of her ‘Muslimness’

  • Nusrat Ghani was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 in a reshuffle 
  • She alleged that she was told by a whip her ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’ 
  • Ms Ghani claimed she was told faith was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’ 
  • Mark Spencer identified himself as the person Ms Ghani’s claims were about
  • The MP for Sherwood, 52, branded the accusations as ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’ 
  • Michael Fabricant said timing of the former minister’s claim was ‘very suspicious

ByDavid Wilcock, Whitehall Correspondent For Mailonlineand Bhvishya Patel For Mailonline

A Tory MP has sparked anger after he said former minister Nusrat Ghani who claimed she was sacked because of her ‘Muslimness’ was ‘hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim’. 

Michael Fabricant said the timing of the former transport minister‘s claim was ‘very suspicious’, and suggested it was linked to moves to get rid of Boris Johnson over the Downing Street lockdown parties scandal. 

He said Ms Ghani was not ‘obviously’ a Muslim, and it was ‘lame’ to claim that was the reason she was fired as a transport minster in a reshuffle in 2020. 

His comments come after Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith was partly responsible for her getting the boot.   

No10 claimed she had made the PM aware of the allegation at the time but declined an invitation to ask for a full investigation. But Ms Ghani contradicted their version of events, saying the PM refused to get involved and tried to fob her off.     

Today, Labour described Mr Fabricant’s comments as ‘shameful’ and called for the Conservative whip to be withdrawn.

Speaking on LBC, Mr Fabricant said: ‘The timing is interesting. I think all this is because it’s open season on Boris Johnson, putting pressure on him from the party trying to get him to resign.

‘I think the whole thing actually stinks, the accusation being made by Nus Ghani.

‘She’s hardly someone who is obviously a Muslim. I had no idea what religion she is. It does seem rather a lame excuse to me that she was sacked because of that.’

In response, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy tweeted: ‘What an appalling, disgraceful thing to say.

‘If the Tories wanted to show they were serious about tackling Islamophobia, they could start by removing the whip from Michael Fabricant.’

Labour Party chair Anneliese Dodds said the response of the the Tories to Ms Ghani’s claims had been shameful.

‘For a Conservative MP, Michael Fabricant, to go on the radio and make comments that reflect exactly the sort of unacceptable behaviour Nusrat has raised shows just how deep the problem in the Conservative Party goes,’ she said.

Ms Ghani has received the backing of Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Education Nadhim Zahawi, the two most senior Muslims in the Cabinet.

Both took to Twitter to support her and demand a full investigation into her claims against Mr Spencer.                

He outed himself as the whip concerned last night, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’. Justice secretary Dominic Raab also lined up to defend the party, claiming she had decided not to call for an investigation at the time.

But Mr Javid said Ms Ghani was ‘a credit to the Conservative Party’, adding: ‘This is a very serious matter which needs a proper investigation. I would strongly support her in making a formal complaint – she must be heard.’

His intervention claim after Mr Zahawi tweeted: ‘There is no place for islamophobia or any form of racism in our Conservative party. Nusrat Ghani is a friend, a colleague & a brilliant parliamentarian. This has to be investigated properly & racism routed out. #standwithNus’ . 

Michael Fabricant has sparked anger after he said the timing of the former transport minister's claim was 'very suspicious'

Michael Fabricant has sparked anger after he said the timing of the former transport minister’s claim was ‘very suspicious’

Nusrat Ghani (pictured), the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle

Nusrat Ghani (pictured), the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked as transport minister in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle

Mark Spencer outed himself as the whip concerned last night, and branded Ms Ghani's comments 'false' and 'defamatory'

Mark Spencer outed himself as the whip concerned last night, and branded Ms Ghani’s comments ‘false’ and ‘defamatory’

Ms Ghani, who was the first Muslim woman to be elected as a Tory MP in 2015, told the Sunday Times she was told by a party whip she was being axed in February 2020 because her status as a Muslim woman and a minister was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’.

She also claimed she was warned that if she continued to raise the issue then her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.   

But this morning Downing Street revealed that Ms Ghani had complained directly to the PM in 2020. A spokeswoman said: ‘After being made aware of these extremely serious claims, the Prime Minister met with Nusrat Ghani to discuss them. 

‘He then wrote to her expressing his serious concern and inviting her to begin a formal complaint process. She did not subsequently do so.’

After that statement was released, Ms Ghani said: ‘When I told the Prime Minister in June 2020 what had been said to me in the Government Whips’ Office I urged him to take it seriously as a Government matter and instigate an inquiry.

‘He wrote to me that he could not get involved and suggested I use the internal Conservative Party complaint process.

‘This, as I had already pointed out, was very clearly not appropriate for something that happened on Government business – I do not even know if the words that were conveyed to me about what was said in reshuffle meetings at Downing Street were by members of the Conservative Party.’

And Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind him today, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a ‘specific investigation’.

Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith got her the boot in 2020

Ms Ghani alleged the chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith got her the boot in 2020

The allegation in the Sunday Times prompted demands for an investigation from Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the most senior Muslim in the Government.

The allegation in the Sunday Times prompted demands for an investigation from Education secretary Nadhim Zahawi, the most senior Muslim in the Government.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind the chief whip today, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a 'specific investigation'.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab rowed in behind the chief whip today, saying that Ms Ghani would have to make a formal complaint to trigger a ‘specific investigation’.

Former education secretary Gavin Williamson accused of threatening MP with school funding axe 

Former education secretary Gavin Williamson has been accused of threatening an MP with withdrawing funding for a school in his constituency.

Tory defector Christian Wakeford claimed he was told funding for a new school in his Bury South constituency would be withheld if he did not back the Government in axing free meals for pupils.

The Bury South MP, 37, did not say who was behind the alleged comments, which he made after defecting from the Conservatives to Labour on Wednesday.

But speaking to the Sunday Times, Mr Wakeford has now claimed that Gavin Williamson, a former chief whip, was responsible. 

Mr Wakeford had alleged that Mr Williamson pulled him out of the House of Commons dining room and told him to ‘consider’ what he was doing.

He said he was told: ‘It’s not very helpful to back an opposition (motion) against the department where you’re wanting an extremely large favour from said department, so do consider what you’re doing.’

Mr Wakeford added: ‘I know the maxim is ‘once a whip, always a whip’, but yeah, that one was Gavin.’

But Mr Williamson insisted that he does not have ‘any recollection’ of any such conversation taking place with Mr Wakeford.

‘What I do remember is working tirelessly with Christian and others in order to be able to deliver this school, which I did,’ he said.

 ‘Such major investment decisions are made after close analysis of the benefits that the investment will bring and certainly not something that can be decided in a brief conversation like the one described.’

The row opens a new front in the increasingly bitter conflict between Boris Johnson’s embattled administration and Conservative MPs. 

The row, fuelled by Partygate revelations, descended into open warfare last week when backbenchers led by committee chairman William Wragg went public with claims of heavy-handed behaviour from the whips they say went as far as blackmail.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last week, today used a newspaper article to accuse the PM of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’.  

Ms Ghani, the Tory MP for Wealden in East Sussex, was sacked in February 2020 as part of a mini-cabinet reshuffle.

She told The Times she felt ‘humiliated and powerless’ after the alleged conversation, saying: ‘It was like being punched in the stomach.’

A government source close to the whips’ office strenuously denied the allegation. 

Following the allegations, chief whip Mark Spencer took to Twitter to identify himself as the person Ms Ghani’s claims were about.

The MP for Sherwood, 52, claimed he had ‘never used those words’. 

He wrote: ‘To ensure other Whips are not drawn into this matter, I am identifying myself as the person Nusrat Ghani MP has made claims about this evening. 

‘These accusations are completely false and I consider them to be defamatory. I have never used those words attributed to me.’ 

He also claimed Ms Ghani ‘declined’ to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation, claiming he gave evidence about it to an Islamophobia inquiry.

He added: ‘It is disappointing that when this issue was raised before Ms Ghani declined to refer the matter to the Conservative Party for a formal investigation.

‘I provided evidence to the Singh Investigation into Islamophobia which concluded that there was no credible basis for the claims to be included in the report. 

‘These claims relate to a meeting in March 2020. 

‘When Ms Ghani raised them she was invited to use the formal CCHQ complaints procedure. She declined to do so.’ 

But Mr Zahawi’s call for a probe was echoed by influential backbencher and former minister Steve Baker this morning. He said: ‘That Nus could be treated like this is completely intolerable. I value (her) as a great colleague and I’m appalled. We must get to the bottom of it.’

Tory defector: Boris has ‘poisoned’ the Conservative Party 

The former Conservative MP who defected to Labour has accused Boris Johnson of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’ as he said the Prime Minister was ‘living on borrowed time’.

Christian Wakeford crossed the floor in protest at the PM’s leadership and the row over Downing Street parties.

He has also said he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.

Writing in the Sunday Mirror, Mr Wakeford said: ‘Boris Johnson is living on borrowed time. He has poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom.’

The Bury South MP said the investigation into No 10 by civil servant Sue Gray would show Downing Street was ‘hosting parties while the rest of us were obeying the rules’.

‘The PM attended and then lied about it. He showed no respect for the Queen while she was in mourning for her husband,’ Mr Wakeford wrote.

‘His behaviour has been an insult not just to Her Majesty but to the whole nation.

‘His lack of honesty and integrity has poisoned the once great party he leads.’

Mr Wakeford added he had ‘too much respect for the people who voted me into Parliament to stay silent in the face of such intimidation’.

 

Ms Ghani, vice-chairwoman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, is understood to have said that she considered whether she wanted to continue being an MP after the alleged incident. 

Speaking about the reshuffle, she claimed that she had asked the whips in a post-reshuffle meeting why she was being fired, which is when she alleges she was told her ‘Muslimness’ was raised as an ‘issue’.

Ms Ghani, who previously served as Lord Commissioner of HM Treasury, claimed she was told there were concerns that she wasn’t ‘loyal’ to the party because she didn’t do enough to defend it against Islamophobia allegations.

She said: ‘It was very clear to me that the whips and No 10 were holding me to a higher threshold of loyalty than others because of my background and faith.’

In March 2020, the politician claimed she had a second meeting with a whip where she alleged she was told there was ‘no Islamophobia’ within the party.

In the same meeting, she claimed she was told by the whip that she had been fired for saying to Boris Johnson that they had a ‘women problem’, in attracting female voters.

Ms Ghani claimed she raised the issue through official party channels but said she was warned that if she continued to do so, she would be ‘ostracised’ by her colleagues and her ‘career and reputation would be destroyed’.

After the ‘threats’, she said she followed procedure but was eventually left with ‘no choice’ but to continue with her career from the back benches.

Lord Sheikh, president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, has said he was ‘horrified’ by the claims.

Speaking on Times Radio, he said: ‘If these allegations are true then it’s totally inappropriate, in fact I was horrified to hear that she was sacked in 2020 because of her faith.

‘I’m really, really disturbed by these comments, and what we need to do is to undertake an investigation into what really happened.

‘Mark Spencer has denied that this has happened, so somebody is not telling the truth.

‘An investigation must be carried out by an independent person. This is very, very important.

‘I’ve been a member of the Conservative Party for over 15 years and I’m president of the Conservative Muslim Forum, and any Islamophobia, any discrimination in the party is totally unacceptable, and I think we need to get to the bottom of what happened.’   

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last week, today used a newspaper article to accuse the PM of having 'poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom'.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who defected to Labour last week, today used a newspaper article to accuse the PM of having ‘poisoned the Tory Party from top to bottom’.

An inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, which was carried out two years ago, found no evidence that the Tory party is ‘institutionally racist’ but was critical of comments made by Boris Johnson.

The Prime Minister was cleared by a majority on an independent panel over a complaint he broke the party’s code of conduct following a Daily Telegraph column in 2018 which described Muslim women who wear the burkha as looking like ‘letterboxes’ and ‘bank robbers’. He later apologised for his comments. 

The inquiry carried out by Prof Singh, a former commissioner at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, was established by the party following a series of allegations about Islamophobic behaviour in the party and was widened to consider all forms of discrimination.

From 2015-2020, the party’s central database recorded 1,418 complaints relating to 727 incidents of alleged discrimination – an average of 237 complaints about 122 incidents a year in a party of 200,000 members.

More than two-thirds of the incidents – 496 cases – related to Islam and 74 per cent of all the cases involved social media activity.

The report concluded that an allegation of ‘institutional racism’ against the party was ‘not borne out by evidence available to the investigation as regards the way the party handled the complaints process’.

But it acknowledged that ‘anti-Muslim sentiment remains a problem’ within the Conservative Party.

Ms Ghani’s allegations come after rebel Tory William Wragg accused government whips of ‘blackmailing’ backbenchers seeking to oust the Prime Minister amid fears of a no-confidence vote.

Ms Ghani (pictured), 49, alleged she was told by a whip her 'Muslimness was raised as an issue' at a post-reshuffle meeting and that her faith was 'making colleagues feel uncomfortable'

Ms Ghani (pictured), 49, alleged she was told by a whip her ‘Muslimness was raised as an issue’ at a post-reshuffle meeting and that her faith was ‘making colleagues feel uncomfortable’

It comes as rebel Tory William Wragg (pictured) accused government whips of 'blackmailing' backbenchers seeking to oust Boris Johnson amid fears of a no-confidence vote

It comes as rebel Tory William Wragg (pictured) accused government whips of ‘blackmailing’ backbenchers seeking to oust Boris Johnson amid fears of a no-confidence vote

Mr Wragg, 34, said he will be meeting a detective from the Metropolitan Police in the House of Commons early next week to discuss his allegations, raising the prospect police could open an investigation. 

Mr Wragg said on Friday that next week, he plans to tell the detective ‘several’ examples of bullying and intimidation, claiming some cases involved public money. 

He told The Telegraph: ‘I stand by what I have said. No amount of gas-lighting will change that.’ 

Downing Street said it would not be mounting its own inquiry into the claims, despite calls to do so by both Conservative and opposition MPs. 

A No 10 spokesman said it would only open an inquiry if it was presented with evidence to back up Mr Wragg’s assertions. 

But Mr Wragg, the Chair of Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he believed an investigation should be left for the ‘experts’ in the police.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘As with any such allegations, should a criminal offence be reported to the Met, it would be considered.’ 

However, Adam Holloway, the Tory MP for Gravesham, dismissed the ‘blackmail’ allegations, saying he has ‘never known’ such behaviour to happen during his time in the Conservatives or Government, adding it ‘doesn’t ring true to me’.

Responding to the allegations while visiting the ‘Jabs with Kebabs’ project at V’s Punjabi Grill in Gravesend, Mr Holloway, 56, said: ‘I can only speak for myself and I’ve never known anything like that.  

‘I’ve never known any sort of link with my behaviour in Parliament and resources coming into my constituency, so I suspect it’s complete bulls***.

‘That’s what happens in American politics, I’ve got no sense of that here, ever in 16 years. It just doesn’t seem to work that way.’ 

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat has also insisted that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips use blackmail following the allegations. 

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat (pictured) has insisted that he has never experienced or witnessed his party's whips use blackmail following the allegations from Mr Wragg

Tory MP Tom Tugendhat (pictured) has insisted that he has never experienced or witnessed his party’s whips use blackmail following the allegations from Mr Wragg

The MP for Tonbridge and Malling, 48, was asked on BBC Breakfast if he had ever been blackmailed by his party’s whips.

He responded: ‘No, I haven’t, and as you may well know, I’ve not always been the Government’s biggest supporter. I have voted against the Government on occasions when I thought it right.

‘I have to say I’ve always had a very close relationship with the chief whip and indeed a very productive relationship with whips, so I’m waiting to hear more about this because it’s not something I’ve seen or been told about.’

Mr Johnson insisted on Thursday he had ‘seen no evidence’ to support the claim made by Mr Wragg that his critics were facing ‘intimidation’. 

Meanwhile, Christian Wakeford, the Bury South MP who defected to Labour, claimed the Tory whips had warned him over funding for a new school in his constituency if he rebelled in a vote over free school meals. 

Ministers have sought to dismiss the allegations, insisting the whips had no role in the allocation of public funding. 

 




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