Simon Case, head of Britain’s civil service, has been quizzed by the Metropolitan Police about his involvement in Whitehall parties that broke coronavirus restrictions during lockdown, according to senior officials.
The force has sent more than 100 questionnaires as part of its investigation into whether Covid-19 rules were broken during the “partygate” scandal. It follows an internal civil service probe by Sue Gray, a senior Whitehall official.
UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s involvement in the scandal led to many Conservative MPs submitting letters of no confidence, although these did not reach the threshold of 54 to trigger a vote on his position.
Case’s involvement in the Met inquiries will raise further questions about his authority to lead the civil service. His position had come under intense scrutiny after Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former aide, claimed he personally recruited Case to try to influence the prime minister’s views on the pandemic.
Two senior Whitehall officials told the Financial Times that Case had received a questionnaire relating to a gathering held in his private office in December 2020. He was previously in charge of Number 10’s internal partygate inquiry but recused himself after reports of the Christmas gathering came to light.
One senior Whitehall figure said: “Simon is totally compromised, he’s worried about being fined by the police — it’s widely known he is being investigated. He’s struggling to lead the civil service too, I don’t see him lasting [in his role].”
The Cabinet Office said it would not be appropriate to comment on speculation but noted that “the cabinet secretary and the prime minister are fully focused on the vital work this government is doing on the illegal invasion of Ukraine”.
Johnson and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, have also received questionnaires from London’s police force about their involvement in the gatherings. Downing Street is braced for the conclusion of the Met’s inquiry “in the coming weeks”, according to insiders.
The police investigation into the parties is expected to conclude before Dame Cressida Dick, head of the Met, leaves the force in mid-April. The publication of Gray’s full report into the parties is expected to follow after a limited summary was produced in January.
Officials who have recently spoken to Gray said she was “mustard keen” to ensure that her full findings were made public. One said: “The whole thing is pretty damning, particularly for Johnson. Whether there are fines for senior people or not, Sue wants it all out there.”
A spokesperson for Gray’s investigation said: “It would not be appropriate to comment further while the Metropolitan Police Service’s investigation is ongoing. As Number 10 have made clear, an updated report will be published in due course, in line with the original terms of reference.”
Some allies of the prime minister believe the moment of maximum political danger on partygate has passed as the war in Ukraine has shored up his position. “The war saved him,” said one cabinet minister.
But another senior minister close to Johnson said: “He’s not out of the woods yet. Not at all. There are still people out to get him.” A former cabinet minister and critic of Johnson said: “You would be wrong to think this has all gone away for Boris. People are still talking about it.”