Met Police Move To Water Down Gray Report Accused Of Looking Like A Stitch Up
The Met police telling Sue Gray to remove key parts from her highly-anticipated report into Downing Street parties has prompted furious claims in Westminster that it it appears like a cover up.
In the latest twist in 'partygate', the Met on Friday morning said it had instructed senior civil servant Gray to make "minimal reference" in her report to allegations of rule-breaking during lockdown which it itself is investigating, creating fresh confusion over when it will be published.
It also means that the report, which risks doing further damage to Boris Johnson's leadership, is set to be released with major redactions despite the Prime Minister himself insisting it would be published in full.
One Tory backbencher was particularly scathing of the Met's move, saying "this looks really, really bad to the public" and "like the police are trying to cover up for one man".
They told PoliticsHome: "This looks like a cover up, and I'm not saying it was a cover up.
"It might just be that this is how it's played out, that the terms of reference did say she needs to bring in the police if there's crimes.
"But, frankly, the Met refused to investigate. Somebody else has done all the work. Then they said, we will take it from here and, by the way you can't publish it. It's a complete joke."
Another Conservative MP said the move likely leaves Johnson in a more comfortable position, as a number of Tories were waiting for the Gray report to set out the full picture before deciding whether to submit letters of no confidence and potentially trigger a leadership contest.
“I imagine this makes him quite a bit safer, at least in the short to medium term. A lot of my colleagues have been waiting for that report to come out," they said.
The service in a statement claimed it had not asked for “any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed”.
“We have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation,” it added.
However, Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the government of being "mired in sleaze and scandal" over the latest developments.
"The Government is paralysed because of the Prime Minister’s behaviour in Downing Street and the attempts of his Cabinet to save his skin," he said.
“While the Tories are focused on this charade of Boris Johnson’s making, people around the country are worried about paying their bills, whether they can afford to fill up their car, and about the tax rises about to be imposed on them in a few weeks’ time. They are getting no answers from a government mired in sleaze and scandal."
He added that the Gray report "must be published in full as soon as possible" while the police completed their investigation."
The Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party (SNP) also both reacted angrily to the Met's decision, with both saying the move risked appearing like a stitch-up designed to protect the Prime Minister.
"So first the police were waiting for Sue Gray, now Sue Gray has to wait for the police?" said Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs Spokesperson.
"Any appearance of an establishment stitch-up between the Met Commissioner and the Government is profoundly damaging. Police officers need the trust and confidence of the public to do their jobs and keep our communities safe".
Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, said that to the general public "this increasingly looks like a cover-up" and called for the report to be released "in full and undoctored without further delay".
He said: "This cannot be another Whitewall whitewash. There must be maximum transparency.
"Any attempt to cover this up or delay the inevitable would be completely unacceptable - and would erode any last remnants of public trust in the Westminster government".
Labour MP Neil Coyle, who has been critical of the Met's handling of the "partygate" row, told PoliticsHome: "The Met has gone from insisting someone else investigates to disrupting their own investigation in a matter of days.
"The incompetence is horrifying in what is supposed to be the best police force in the country".
It was thought within Westminster that the report would be published this week. However, the Met's latest move means it will almost certainly be delayed until next week.
Johnson has seen his leadership descend into crisis following the party allegations, with his personal ratings and those of the Conservative party taking a big hit in the opinion polls.
He has reportedly deployed a “shadow whipping” operation in a bid to get backbench MPs back on side, amid fears that many may have submitted letters of no-confidence to the 1922 backbench business committee.
Theresa May, the former prime minister, this week told her constituents she was "angry" about the parties and that she expected "full accountability" for anyone found to have deliberately broken the rules, her local newspaper Maidenhead Advertiser reported.
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