A 2015 BBC article on Sue Gray has been unearthed after the senior civil servant became a human shield for Boris Johnson amid fresh Downing Street party allegations.
The prime minister is to face MPs amid furious demands to come clean over his attendance at a reported “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden in breach of Covid lockdown rules.
He will make his first public appearance since the leak on Monday of an email from his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds inviting Downing Street staff to the gathering in May 2020.
The disclosure triggered a new wave of public anger following the reports last year of parties in the run up to Christmas 2020, with Tory MPs openly warning Mr Johnson his position will be untenable if he has been shown to have lied.
Downing Street has refused to say if he was present at the May event, despite reports he and his fiancee (now wife), Carrie Symonds, were among around 30 people to attend at a time when such gatherings were banned.
The prime minister has said it is a matter for Sue Gray, the senior civil servant who is investigating a series of reported parties in Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall in the course of 2020 to determine what happened.
However Conservative MPs warned that such a position was simply unsustainable as Mr Johnson must know whether he was there or not.
A 2015 article published by the BBC has shed some light on the senior civil servant, describing her as the “most powerful person you’ve never heard of” and one of the “most secretive you could hope to meet”.
Chris Cook, who was policy editor at Newsnight at the time, said Ms Gray’s influence “is astounding” in the piece because she effectively decides which documents may or may not be published.
He highlights one case in 2011 when she advised Michael Gove, then education secretary, that email sent in private email accounts on government business was exempt from transparency laws.
He had been using his wife’s email account for departmental business. Ms Gray did so over the telephone, but also followed up with an explanatory email.
If data is not stored on servers accessible to officials, she wrote, it “seems obvious that they cannot ‘hold’ it for the purpose of the Act”, she wrote.
The advice ended up costing tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees and is described by Cook as a “rare chink in her armour”.
Yesterday Ed Miliband launched a blistering attack on Boris Johnson after he hid behind Cook amid fresh Downing Street party allegations.
Mr Johnson had refused to answer questions about the latest allegation of rule-breaking, instead claiming the public should wait for the conclusions of an investigation by Gray – a line repeated on Tuesday morning by health minister Edward Agar.
But Miliband has moved quickly to ridicule the line of defence – saying “if I went to a party, I know I went.
“I don’t need Sue Gray to tell me I went!”