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Tuesday 01 February 2022

Sue Gray made “right decision” to delay report

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The FDA has supported Sue Gray’s decision to delay the publication of her investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during COVID restrictions and instead provide an update to No.10.

Responding to the update, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman acknowledged that whilst “many in Westminster and beyond will be disappointed that there is a further delay in publishing the report”, it was “clearly the right decision for Sue Gray to make, given the restrictions imposed by the Metropolitan Police”.

Gray’s update listed 16 separate events that were in the scope of her investigation, 12 of which the Metropolitan Police have now confirmed they are investigating as a result of information provided by the Cabinet Office investigation team, as well as assessments made by officers.

As a result of these police investigations, Gray’s update explains that the Met told her to “make minimal reference” to the gatherings they were investigating, meaning she is “extremely limited” in what she can say and “it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report”.

Penman defended this approach, explaining that the “significant public interest in Sue Gray’s investigation” meant that “the publication of any partial or redacted details would inevitably be criticised and raise further doubt about whether the full report would be published later”.

The FDA General Secretary also criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s response to the update. Speaking to Colin Brazier on GB News, he said he was “disappointed” when he heard Johnson speak in the House of Commons. “He talked about a review of the Civil Service Code, and the code for Special Advisers [but] there was no mention of the Ministerial Code,” Penman said. “So, it did feel a little bit like the Prime Minister was starting to point the finger at civil servants and special advisers and suggest there’s nothing to be learned for ministers in all of this.”

He discussed this further with Ros Atkins on BBC News’ Outside Source, where he argued that “the one code that could do with a bit of a review is the Ministerial Code, because the Prime Minister himself gets to veto whether he’s investigated under it, but there was no mention of that”.

Johnson has previously ignored calls from the Committee on Standards in Public Life to give up that veto and Penman has stressed that everyone in No.10 has to be accountable for their actions, including the Prime Minister. Speaking to Iain Dale on LBC, the FDA General Secretary said that accountability has to be “proportionate” and “fair”.

“You can’t say to civil servants that they will be accountable and they will pay a price for all of this if, actually, those in the political leadership of No.10 don’t pay any price or are able to exempt themselves from paying a price.”

He discussed this further in a column for Civil Service World, in which he wrote: “A “strengthening of codes” is a bit of red meat to throw at the backbenches by a PM desperate to show he’s “done something”. With no detail or rationale offered, we wait with bated breath, but it was probably the clearest signal that he will point to the failures of others as his get out of jail free card.”

The FDA has called on the Prime Minister to publish Sue Gray’s report in full as soon as he is able to do so.

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