LONDON (AP) — Doubt about the timing and content of a key report into lockdown-breaching parties within the British government deepened Friday when police said they wanted parts of it to remain unpublished until they finish a criminal investigation.
The Metropolitan Police force said it had asked for civil servant Sue Gray’s report to make only “minimal reference” to the events being investigated by detectives, “to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
The request could further delay the publication of the report, which had been expected this week and whose findings could deliver a major blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s fragile grip on power.
The senior civil servant is probing allegations the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions they imposed on the country in 2020 and 2021 to curb the spread of the coronavirus with “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays.”
The claims have caused public anger, led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation and triggered intense infighting inside the governing party.
Gray is looking into almost 20 incidents. This week police opened an inquiry into an undisclosed smaller number of them found to meet the force’s criteria for investigating the “most serious and flagrant” breaches of coronavirus rules.
Police have handed out tens of thousands of fines for breaching coronavirus rules since 2020, with miscreants facing a maximum fine of 10,000 pounds ($13,500).
Johnson has promised to publish Gray’s report in full and to address Parliament about its findings. He has denied personal wrongdoing and said he has “absolutely no intention” of resigning.
The government denied interfering with Gray’s inquiry, which it says is independent — even though Gray, as a civil servant, is investigating her boss, Johnson.
“The government have no influence and no involvement in how Sue Gray and the police conduct their respective reports and investigations, which is right — it is right they are fully independent,” said Technology Minister Chris Philp.
Johnson’s opponents accused the government of trying to water down a report that could trigger an attempt to oust the prime minister by his own party. Some Conservative lawmakers say they will push for a no-confidence vote if Gray finds Johnson was at fault or lied to Parliament about his actions.
Scottish National Party lawmaker Ian Blackford said “this increasingly looks like a cover-up.”
“The prime minister cannot be allowed to wriggle off the hook by using the Metropolitan Police investigation as an excuse to further delay or doctor the report,” he said.
Fran Hall, spokesperson for the group COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said police “have let families like mine down.”
“As we predicted, the Sue Gray investigation has turned into a circus,” said Hall, whose husband died of COVID-19 in 2020. “The reality is that it’s clear that the prime minister broke his own laws blatantly and regularly, whilst families across the country stuck with them and suffered greatly for doing so.
“If he had any decency he would do the right thing and resign, but that quite clearly isn’t going to happen.”