Civil service chiefs are braced for the behaviour of top Whitehall officials to be severely criticised in the Sue Gray partygate report, after the government’s former ethics chief apologised for attending an illegal gathering.
Amid speculation about whether Boris Johnson will be fined over lockdown parties in No 10, there is also consternation in Whitehall about how to deal with the fallout from senior civil servants being implicated as organisers of gatherings when the full report is finally published.
It comes as Helen MacNamara, the former head of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office, issued an apology after a leak named her as one of the 20 people issued with fines after a Metropolitan police investigation. It is understood a leaving party for Kate Josephs, who ran the Covid task force, has also attracted fines in the first wave of penalty notices. Josephs is currently on paid leave from her job as chief executive of Sheffield City Council pending an investigation.
A senior source said there was concern that details in the report by Gray, herself a senior civil servant, would cast some civil servants in a bad light and there may be evidence that some knowingly broke rules when organising gatherings, leading to the potential for disciplinary action.
Gray has the power to name senior civil servants in her report although she may choose not to use it. In her interim report, she named no names and referred only to the “senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister” – thought to be an allusion to Martin Reynolds, the principal private secretary.
The government has committed to revealing whether or not Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, receives a fixed-penalty notice but intends to keep other names secret. Gray will not know who has received a fine when she publishes her report after the conclusion of Scotland Yard’s inquiries.
Downing Street on Monday defended the “anonymous process” of the Met investigation, under which names of those being fined are not officially released. Some Tory MPs are increasingly unhappy about the “drip-drip” of revelations, however, with backbencher Steve Brine saying: “I would have thought that the best thing is just transparency, open the curtains.”
The Met is expected to issue a further wave of fines in the next few weeks, with Gray publishing her full report as soon after that as possible, potentially after local elections purdah is over in May.
Despite the investigation, cabinet ministers attempted to draw a line under the partygate scandal on Monday. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit minister, said fines for the parties were “not the most important issue in the world” given atrocities in Ukraine while Simon Hart, the Welsh secretary, insisted the “world has moved on”.
Source: The Guardian