BORIS Johnson has made changes to his Downing Street operation following the conclusion of a four-month Metropolitan Police investigation into anti-lockdown parties at the top of government during the pandemic.
Scotland Yard’s Operation Hillman was closed on Thursday May 19 with a total of 126 fixed penalties imposed on 83 people, although it has been confirmed that the Prime Minister will not be punished further than the £50 fine that he received in April for attending his own birthday party in June 2020 when indoor mixing was banned.
Johnson’s No 10 reshuffle will involve the creation of a streamlined team of civil servants working for the prime minister under his permanent secretary.
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It comes ahead of the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s separate report on the coronavirus lockdown rallies in Downing Street and Whitehall, due next week.
A source close to Gray’s investigation said the report may include the naming of figures involved in “factual background” when explaining what happened during the events.
However, it will respect the convention of not naming young civil servants in the final document, which is still being finalized.
The Metropolitan Police declined to identify anyone in their £460,000 investigation.
Gray’s interim report released in January said there were ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ that allowed rule-breaking gatherings to take place in No 10, which the full briefing is expected to expand on. .
The Prime Minister used Thursday’s announcement from the Metropolitan Police about the conclusion of its own inquiry to push through reforms to its operation amid repeated criticism of a culture in Downing Street that has allowed breaches of the Covid law to take place.
The Prime Minister’s attempt to restore order to Downing Street operations has seen the government announce changes which will ‘strengthen support for the Prime Minister and the Cabinet’.
According to officials, the current setup of No 10 and the Cabinet Office will be split into two separate groups.
The existing No 10 operation, alongside Cabinet Office teams supporting Johnson and his high table of ministers, will be placed in a group led by Samantha Jones, the No 10 permanent secretary who was brought in from the NHS in February.
A UK government spokesperson said: ‘As we reported earlier in the year, steps are being taken to further strengthen the functioning of No 10 and the Cabinet Office so that they are best placed to offer to the public now and in the future.
“Work to deliver these plans is ongoing.”
Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns, a close Johnson ally, said the prime minister would make a statement in the House of Commons after Gray released his report, but wanted to draw attention to priorities such as managing the cost of living crisis.
Scotland Yard said it issued 126 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) to 83 people who attended events in Downing Street and across Whitehall on eight separate days.
The investigation saw a team of 12 detectives examine 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries, witness statements and 204 questionnaires.
They also reviewed 510 photographs and CCTV footage.
Officers spared Johnson a second fine, with a report in The Mirror suggesting the Conservative Party leader was told he had only been investigated for two events when he said having attended at least six of the rallies surveyed.
The newspaper said police focused on events where there was photographic evidence of his attendance, namely the birthday party for which he was fined and a separate so-called ‘Abba’ party. at his Downing Street flat on November 13, 2020, the night his former de facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings resigned.
The Met said it would not comment when the suggestion was brought to them by the AP.
According to the Mirror, Johnson’s wife Carrie told police the gathering at the flat with political aid friends was a strategic meeting, while the Prime Minister claimed he was interviewing the one of his wife’s friends, a government adviser, for a new job.
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Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were fined during the police investigation for attending the Prime Minister’s Cabinet Room anniversary celebrations.
But Johnson’s wife was reportedly told by police that she would face no further action, while Sunak received no further fines.
Cabinet Secretary Simon Case completely avoided being slapped with an FPN.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Johnson ‘lost control of what was happening in Downing Street’ during the pandemic after a ‘lot of civil servants’ were ‘caught up’ in the Met investigation .
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: ‘They blurred the line very distinctly on what worked and what didn’t, and they shouldn’t have done it and they were fined, a big many of them, and that is absolutely true.”