Boris Johnson will receive the long-awaited report into lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street and across Whitehall in “the coming hours or days”, Sky News understands – as the Metropolitan Police denied it is seeking to delay its publication.
It is understood the partygate report – compiled by senior civil servant Sue Gray – will not be made public until “in all likelihood next week”, when MPs return to the House of Commons after the weekend.
The version made available in the public domain will be compliant with the Met Police’s earlier request that nothing jeopardises their inquiry, it is believed.
Reaction as police issue second statement on partygate report – politics live
With Police issue second statement on Gray report
It comes as a second statement issued by the Met Police today saw Scotland Yard confirm they have received the information requested from the Cabinet Office to support the investigation into potential breaches of COVID regulations in Westminster.
Commander Catherine Roper said: “We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.”
Ms Roper added that detectives from the Special Inquiry Team, which is leading the investigation, were now examining the material handed over by the Cabinet Office “in detail to establish whether individuals attending the events in question may have breached the regulations.
Earlier, police cast doubt over when the report would be published, after it called for “minimal reference” to be made to the events it is investigating.
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When the police investigation into partygate began on Tuesday, the force told journalists it did not believe the full publication of the report would prejudice its own investigation.
But the first statement issued by the force today said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation . “
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Lawyers have questioned the Met’s request, with one describing it as “absolute nonsense”.
But in the force’s latest statement, Ms Roper further explained the earlier remarks.
“In order to protect the integrity of the police investigation, as is appropriate in any case, and to be as fair as possible to those who are subject to it, the Met has asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report to the relevant events, “she said.
“This will only be necessary until these matters are concluded and is to give detectives the most reliable picture of what happened at these events. We intend to complete our investigations promptly, fairly and proportionately.”
Her statement continued: “The offenses under investigation, where proven, would normally result in the issuance of a fixed penalty notice; accordingly our investigative actions will be proportionate to the nature of these offenses.”
It adds that “where there is sufficient evidence that individuals have breached the regulations without reasonable excuse, officers will decide if enforcement action is appropriate” and fixed penalty notices will be issued.
The Met announced earlier this week it was investigating a “number of” gatherings in 2020 and 2021 for potential breaches of coronavirus rules.
Lawyers question Met’s request
Some have questioned how the Met’s investigation can be prejudiced if only lesser offenses are being considered.
Publication of reports and other inquiries can often be delayed until a police investigation and any court case is concluded, typically to avoid the risk of prejudicing a jury.
However, if police investigate under coronavirus laws there would be little risk of prejudice as the penalty for breaking lockdown rules is a fine and it is highly unlikely to result in a prosecution.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for the North West, tweeted: “This is absolute nonsense from the Met Police.
“A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation. They just have to follow the evidence, of which the report will be a part.”
Meanwhile, former director of public prosecutions, Lord Macdonald, suggested to the BBC the Met’s stance was “disproportionate”.
Repot not yet with Number 10
Ms Gray’s report, which is likely to have a significant impact on Mr Johnson’s future as prime minister, has not yet been delivered to Number 10.
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labor leader, said he wanted the report “in full and the investigation finished as quickly as possible”, claiming the government is “paralyzed” by the police probe.
“Any issues of prejudice have got to be worked through but this whole mess, this whole paralysis of politics, is being caused by the prime minister and his wrongdoing,” said Sir Keir.
Downing Street has said it has not asked Ms Gray to go back to the Met to make sure her report does not interfere with the police investigation.
A spokesman insisted it was “an independent investigation” and that the Met’s announcement on Friday had no involvement from Number 10.