Nadhim Zahawi Insists He "Doesn't Know" Who Initiated A Partygate Meeting Between Sue Gray And Boris Johnson
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has insisted he “doesn’t know” who initiated a private meeting between Boris Johnson and Sue Gray, the civil servant who has carried out an inquiry into drinking and party culture in Downing Street during the pandemic.
Speaking on Sky News this morning, Zahawi said “you can’t question Sue Gray’s integrity,” but failed to answer why the civil servant met with the Prime Minister several weeks ago.
Confusion surrounding the get together follows an announcement from the Metropolitan Police that it has completed its inquiry into lockdown breaching parties in Downing Street and Whitehall.
In total the force dished out 126 fixed penalty notices to 83 individuals, including the Prime Minister, his wife and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Gray’s report, which was withheld from publication while the Met carried out its investigation, is expected to be made public in the coming week. But fresh questions have been raised about its integrity after news emerged that Gray and Johnson had held a meeting.
Accounts of exactly what was said at the meeting vary.
“Ultimately there are two facts: one, the Prime Minister does not, did not, would never intervene in this report – he wants Sue Gray to publish her report,” Zahawi told Sky News on Sunday morning.
“Secondly, I’ve worked with Sue Gray, I know Sue Gray, Sue Gray’s integrity is beyond question,” he added.
“The Prime Minister would never intervene in such an investigation – has not intervened, he’s allowed it to happen.”
A spokesperson for the Gray inquiry has confirmed the civil servant did not initiate the meeting with Johnson herself and disputed claims the pair discussed the matter of whether photographs should be included in any report.
Downing Street has similarly insisted the meeting was not called for by the Prime Minister personally.
“Meetings happen every day, my diary is full of meetings,” Zahawi told Sky News.
“I’m saying to you that what is important, what is material, is that Sue Gray has conducted her report independently, the Prime Minister has never intervened in her report,” the education secretary added.
Labour has called for Number 10 to “urgently explain” why a meeting took place.
“Boris Johnson must urgently explain why he held a secret meeting with Sue Gray to discuss her report despite claiming her investigation was completely independent,” Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said.
“Public confidence in the process is already depleted, and people deserve to know the truth,” she added.
"This is a Prime Minister incapable of taking responsibility for the rotten culture he has created in Downing Street or of doing the decent thing.”
Alongside expressing uncertainty over who initiated the Gray-Johnson meeting, on Sunday morning Zahawi could not definitively answer whether government will impose a windfall tax on oil and gas companies who have seen profits soar amid the global energy crisis.
Labour has long been calling for the one-off tax, which it claims could raise almost £2 billion for the treasury. The funds would then be passed on to households struggling to pay bills as inflation in the UK hits 9%.
Government has previously opposed the policy outright, though it has now softened its tone, claiming no option is off the table.
“The Chancellor will see how we can target help to the people who need it the most – he will look at every option,” Zahawi told the BBC this morning.
“The Chancellor will make the decision, but he is on the people’s side, and he will deliver that help,” the education secretary added.
Also speaking to the BBC this morning, Michael Lewis, the CEO of energy supplier E.ON, called for government to further intervene to help customers struggling to pay gas and electricity bills.
“The scale of this is simply too big for us to manage at the moment,” Lewis said.
“The scale of this is unprecedented and that’s why we’re calling for more intervention from government.”
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe