Sue Gray invited Boris Johnson to a controversial meeting as she prepared to publish her partygate inquiry and it would have been “churlish” to decline the request, a minister has said.
Simon Clarke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, insisted the integrity of the Cabinet Office inquiry into lockdown breaches in Downing Street had not been damaged by the meeting.
He also defended Ms Gray from claims attributed to allies of the Prime Minister that she has been “playing politics” ahead of its publication, expected in the coming days.
“Receive an update”
Mr Johnson is facing calls to explain why he held a secret meeting with Ms Gray after a Cabinet minister over the weekend said he did not know who had arranged it.
But on Monday, Mr Clarke said the Prime Minister attended to “receive an update” on the investigation at the behest of the civil service investigator.
“My understanding is that the meeting was instigated by Ms Gray,” the Treasury minister told Sky News.
“There are lots of practical questions here which need to be bottomed out in terms of, for example, who can be named in this report and the extent to which photographic evidence can be included. It is important that those practical dimensions are resolved.”
Mr Johnson and Ms Gray are understood to have met at least once for an update on the report’s progress while it was being drafted.
But Mr Clarke insisted the “integrity” of the Cabinet Office report should not be doubted by the meeting.
“I don’t think it would have been in any way improper – indeed, it would have been somewhat churlish to have declined to have met,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reported an “insider” accusing Ms Gray of “playing politics” and “enjoying the limelight a little too much”.
Asked whether he would condemn that criticism, Mr Clarke told Sky: “I would.
“By repute she is one of the most fiercely independent and professional civil servants in the whole of Government and brings a vast range of experience to bear, so I don’t think there is any politics.”