Cabinet Secretary Simon Case admits leak hunt unlikely to find culprit

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case admits ‘chatty rat’ lockdown leak inquiry ‘probably’ WON’T find culprit as he gives evidence to MPs amid brutal briefing war between PM and Dominic Cummings

  • Cabinet Secretary Simon Case said inquiry into ‘chatty rat’ lockdown leak probably will not find the culprit
  • He insisted the conclusions of the long-running probe about Autumn lockdown plan should emerge in weeks
  • Mr Case said the inquiries were ‘incredibly complex’ as he defended the ‘painstaking work’ being done 
  • Claims have emerged that Boris Johnson said ‘let the bodies pile up’ in angry rant about second lockdown
  • The Prime Minister has flatly denied the bombshell allegation amid an increasingly brutal briefing war
  • Former No10 chief Dominic Cummings has been openly attacking Mr Johnson amid fears of election damage 

The Cabinet Secretary today admitted an inquiry into the ‘chatty rat’ lockdown probably will not find a culprit as he gave evidence to MPs.

Giving evidence to a powerful committee, Simon Case said the probe into who revealed plans for renewed restrictions last week was ‘complex’.

But Mr Case did not back up Dominic Cummings’s claims that he had been cleared over involvement in the leak, which led to revelations in the Mail that Boris Johnson was poised to order a second national lockdown in October. 

The emergence of the details forced Mr Johnson to bring forward an announcement that a four-week closure would happen in November. 

Mr Case said he hoped the conclusions of the inquiry – which has been going on for months – could be given in ‘weeks rather than months’. But he stressed that the culprit had not yet found. 

‘Given the time that has now past I think it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources. But work is ongoing,’ he told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Mr Case also refused to rule out another leak inquiry into claims Mr Johnson said he would rather see ‘bodies piling up’ than lock the country down again. 

Aides are said to have overhead the premier shouting the words ‘in a rage’ in his study last autumn after agreeing to the second wave of restrictions.

But asked on a visit to Wales this afternoon whether he had ever made such a comment, the premier replied: ‘No.’ 

A clearly frustrated Mr Johnson quickly tried to change the subject: ‘The important thing that people want us to get on to do as a government is make sure that the lockdowns work, and they have.

‘And I really pay tribute to the people of this country that have really pulled together and, working with the vaccination programme, we’ve got the disease under control.’ 

Giving evidence to a powerful committee, Simon Case said the probe into who revealed plans for renewed restrictions last week was ‘complex’

Boris Johnson is embroiled in an increasingly damaging briefing war with former aide Dominic Cummings (pictrued together in September 2019) 

Mr Johnson visited a warehouse in Wrexham today as the election campaigning continues


Mr Cummings has accused Mr Johnson of seeking to block a leak investigation after learning that a close friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds (left), had been implicated, a claim the Prime Minister denied. Cabinet Secretary Simon Case (right) is appearing before a powerful committee this afternoon

A poll today found Tory support has slipped five points over the past month – dramatically narrowing the lead over Labour

The claims emerged in the Daily Mail amid an increasingly damaging battle with Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former chief aide – although the identity of the source was not disclosed. 

ITV’s Robert Peston said two other ‘ear-witnesses’ – who say they did not brief the original story – had confirmed to him that Mr Johnson made the remark. 

The doors of Mr Johnson’s study were allegedly open and supposedly a number of people were within range. 

Tories are alarmed that the spate of briefings could mean ‘mutually assured destruction’ and harm the party at crucial elections next week. Allies of Mr Cummings have upped the threats by indicating he has tapes of key conversations from his time in government. 

A poll today found Tory support has slipped five points over the past month – dramatically narrowing the lead over Labour. 

The government is now under huge pressure on a series of fronts. Mr Johnson has rejected accusations he tried to get Tory donors secretly to pay for redecorating his Downing Street flat.

There have also been a slew of negative stories surfacing about contacts between ministers and David Cameron, who was lobbying on behalf of Greensill.   

The decision on the second lockdown last autumn was leaked and is the subject of a long-running inquiry to find the so-called ‘chatty rat’ who tipped off the press.

Appearing before a powerful committee this afternoon, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is expected to indicate he has not cleared Mr Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings over that leak, despite the ex-aide’s claims to the contrary.

The civil service chief is also set to be grilled by the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) about the lobbying furore.

Mr Cummings has accused Mr Johnson of seeking to block the investigation after learning that a close friend of his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, had been implicated, a claim the Prime Minister denied.

In an incendiary blog post, Mr Cummings went on to say that Mr Case had told Mr Johnson that neither he nor the then No 10 director of communications, Lee Cain, was the culprit.

However officials familiar with the investigation said that it had neither ‘landed’ on any one individual nor exonerated anyone.

Both Mr Cummings and Mr Cain left Downing Street before Christmas after an extraordinary power struggle with allies of Ms Symonds. 

The disclosure is likely to further anger Mr Cummings, who released his onslaught after he was accused by No 10 of a series of damaging leaks, including text message exchanges between Mr Johnson and the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson.

Ministers are now concerned at what he may say when he gives evidence to MPs investigating the Government’s response to the pandemic next month.

Mr Cummings is widely known to have been critical of Mr Johnson’s delay in launching a second lockdown in England when cases began rising last autumn, and there is speculation he will seek to blame him for the high death toll.

In a round of interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News: ‘We are getting into the sort of comedy chapter now of these gossip stories – unnamed sources, by unnamed advisers talking about unnamed events.

‘None of this is serious. The Prime Minister has been utterly focused on delivering, alongside Cabinet colleagues, the response to Covid.’

Health minister Nadine Dorries said it was ‘mendacious, vexatious, co-ordinated gossip’ aimed at destabilising the Tory campaign ahead of the May 6 elections.

Meanwhile Labour will focus on another of Mr Cummings’ allegations as it attempts to force ministers to explain how Boris Johnson paid for the lavish refurbishment of his official Downing Street flat.

The opposition will ask Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to grant an urgent question requiring a minister to come to the House to respond to the charge that Mr Johnson plotted for Tory donors to secretly fund the work.

On a visit to Wales today, Boris Johnson denied claims he made a remark about ‘bodies piling up’ in a fit of pique after agreeing the second round of brutal coronavirus restrictions last year

It allegedly came after Michael Gove (pictured) warned Mr Johnson that soldiers would be needed to guard hospitals overrun with Covid victims

In a round of interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace dismissed the briefings as a ‘comedy chapter of gossip stories’

An Ipsos MORI poll for the Evening Standard today found that the Tories have slumped five points over the past month on Westminster voting intention.

The survey, conducted between April 16 and 22, put the party on 40 per cent, just three points ahead of Labour.   

One former minister told MailOnline of the latest leaks: ‘This needs to stop because it is damaging both sides. 

‘Cummings may think that now that he is no longer in government he has less to lose, but he needs to remember that he spent a lot of time in senior positions, and without doubt there will be things that he will not want to leaked out.

‘He may feel that he has nothing to lose, but he is wrong.’

‘It is also time for Carrie Symonds to back off, because it is clear in all of this that her name comes up regularly in the issues that are causing the PM difficulty – whether it is appointments, personnel, or having the flat redecorated.’ 

However, another bullish Conservative MP said they had barely received any correspondence, and the civil war was not coming up on the doorstep. 

The comment by Mr Johnson allegedly came after Michael Gove warned Mr Johnson that soldiers would be needed to guard hospitals overrun with Covid victims. 

He agreed to fresh restrictions but his frustration is said to have boiled over after the crucial meeting at No 10 in October. ‘No more ****ing lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands!’ he is alleged to have raged. 

Cummings ‘has key No 10 tapes’ 

Dominic Cummings kept audio recordings of key conversations in government, an ally claimed last night

Dominic Cummings kept audio recordings of key conversations in government, an ally claimed last night.

The former chief adviser is locked in an explosive war of words with Boris Johnson after Downing Street accused him of a string of damaging leaks.

No 10 attempted to rubbish his claims on Friday night, saying it was not true that the Prime Minister had discussed ending a leak inquiry after a friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds was identified as the likely suspect.

But an ally of Mr Cummings said the PM’s former chief adviser had taken a treasure trove of material with him when he left Downing Street last year, including audio recordings of discussions with senior ministers and officials.

‘Dom has stuff on tape,’ the ally said. ‘They are mad to pick a fight with him because he will be able to back up a lot of his claims.

‘He used to tell advisers to record things all the time – discussions with officials. He has also kept a lot of his correspondence.’

A Whitehall source yesterday said officials did not know the full extent of the material Mr Cummings has. 

He has denied leaking and has already told MPs that aspects of the Government’s approach to Covid went ‘catastrophically wrong’.

Ministers and Cabinet Secretary face grilling over claims PM tried to get Tory donors to fund lavish makeover of Downing Street flat

Ministers and the Cabinet Secretary face a grilling today over claims Boris Johnson tried to get Tory donors to fund a £60,000 Downing Street flat renovation.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case will appear before MPs following a string of explosive allegations made by Dominic Cummings. 

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove is also set to answer an urgent question in the Commons as Labour seeks to capitalise on the meltdown.  

Mr Cummings has accused the PM of wanting donors to ‘secretly pay for the renovation’ of his official residence, in a move the former No10 aide branded ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal’.

Downing Street insists the premier funded the work himself in the end, and all ministerial and electoral rules have been followed.

Asked about the row during interviews this morning, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said Mr Johnson had paid ‘out of his own pocket’ for the Downing Street upgrade.

Mr Wallace told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Do I think the Prime Minister is sleazy? No, I don’t.

Britain’s top civil servant will be quizzed over the lavish refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat today amid claims that the Prime Minister has had to take out a personal loan to pay for it

‘Do I think the Prime Minister is an absolutely first-class leader who has led this country in a pandemic?

‘Let’s not forget, while we are getting into Oscar-type gossip columns – there is an awful lot of gossip going around.

‘He paid out of his own money to refurbish the flat. He paid for his flat.’

Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has granted an urgent question laid by Labour, with Mr Gove understood to be planning to respond.

Appearing before the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Mr Case is expected to deny claims that he cleared Mr Cummings over involvement in the ‘chatty rat’ leak last autumn about the impending second lockdown.

A government source said last night the inquiry, conducted with the assistance of MI5, was ongoing, adding: ‘It has neither found anyone responsible, nor ruled anyone out.’ 

But Mr Case is also expected to face detailed questions about the refurbishment of the flat above Number 11 Downing Street used by Mr Johnson and his fiancée Carrie Symonds.

Adding to the controversy, one senior Tory told the Mail last night: ‘Boris had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost. You have to be pretty wealthy to have £60,000 lying around. He has just emerged from an expensive divorce.’

One former minister told MailOnline of the latest claims: ‘This needs to stop because it is damaging both sides. 

‘Cummings may think that now that he is no longer in government he has less to lose, but he needs to remember that he spent a lot of time in senior positions, and without doubt there will be things that he will not want to leaked out.

‘He may feel that he has nothing to lose, but he is wrong.’

‘It is also time for Carrie Symonds to back off, because it is clear in all of this that her name comes up regularly in the issues that are causing the PM difficulty – whether it is appointments, personnel, or having the flat redecorated.’  

The Electoral Commission has said it is still seeking answers from Tory chiefs about whether party funds or donations were used.

Labour has written to the commission calling for a full investigation. 

Sir Keir said: ‘Like everybody reading that, I was astonished to see those words.

‘It’s for the prime minister, I think now, to make a public statement about that. If he did say those things, he’s got to explain it. 

‘If he didn’t, go on the record and publicly explain what was said and what wasn’t said because I think everybody will be deeply concerned, not least all those families that have lost someone during this pandemic.’

On Friday, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson wanted ‘donors to secretly pay for the renovation’ – which he said was ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules’.

The Mail had revealed that Mr Johnson asked Tory donors to help with the cost of the makeover which is said to run to six figures. 

On Friday, the Cabinet Office said the cost of ‘painting, sanding and floorboards’ had been paid from a £30,000 maintenance allowance, but ‘any costs of wider refurbishment have been met by the Prime Minister personally’. 

Lonely losing battle of PM who’d resisted the clamour for lockdowns: Yes, his outburst was shocking. But libertarian Boris knew it wasn’t just Covid lives at stake, writes ANDREW PIERCE

As No10 officials and senior ministers joined Boris Johnson in the Cabinet Room the mood was bleak. For weeks the Prime Minister had been rejecting calls to impose a second lockdown, not just from Cabinet colleagues but also from the scientists.

But, with the number of Covid infections and deaths on an obstinately upward curve, the pressure to take decisive action was becoming irresistible.

Gathered in the room alongside Boris on Friday, October 30, last year were Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor: the so-called Quad directing the fight against Covid. Dominic Cummings, then Johnson’s chief adviser, was also present.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific officer, and Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, were given the floor and they proceeded to rehearse their well-worn arguments for total lockdown in England.

But the Prime Minister was still in no mood to acquiesce. ‘I will never be able to sell it to the Tory Party,’ he said.

It was at this point that Gove jumped in to make a short but passionate speech. ‘If we don’t do this now we will have to go into a much harder lockdown in three or four weeks,’ he argued. He then conjured up a dystopian image of what the streets would look like if immediate action wasn’t taken.

‘We will be forced to put the Army on the doors of hospitals to turn the sick away as the NHS will be overwhelmed. We will not be forgiven and the Tories will be driven from power.’

You could have heard a pin drop in the Cabinet Room. Sunak, who had traditionally been very hawkish about lockdowns because of their devastating impact on the economy, sided with Gove. Hancock, who had always been in favour of more draconian restrictions, made it three to one against the PM.

Tired and irritable, his hair even more dishevelled than usual, Boris looked utterly deflated.

Only ten days earlier he had told the Commons that the idea of another lockdown was ‘the height of absurdity’. It would ‘turn the lights out’.

If he ordered a U-turn, he knew his political opponents – especially on the Tory benches – would have a field day.

Cummings, who has always held Tory MPs in total contempt, urged him to ignore the carping and do the right thing. After five weeks of trench warfare in Downing Street, Boris reluctantly agreed.

It was shortly after this meeting that he allegedly uttered the phrases that have turned out to be such hostages to fortune: ‘no more ****ing lockdowns’ regardless of the ‘bodies’.

Boris – who once said the real hero of the film Jaws was the mayor of Amity who kept the beaches open despite the presence of a killer shark – was devastated that he had lost the battle.

‘He said he hadn’t gone into Downing Street to shut down the economy,’ said the source, ‘but he was in a minority of one.’

The harsh reality is that – despite his rhetoric – Boris had been fighting a lonely losing battle for some time.

Only six weeks earlier, in an attempt to placate his Tory critics, he had told the Commons that a second national lockdown would have ‘disastrous’ financial consequences for the country and that the Government would do ‘everything in our power to prevent it’.

Yet just three days after that speech the lockdown moved closer when the Government announced that people who did not live in the same household, or who were not in a support bubble, could not gather in groups of more than six.

Boris agreed the rule of six as a compromise. His scientists had put him under pressure to go even further. And that pressure did not let up. Within 48 hours, the Quad was urged by Sage – the committee of scientists that advised the Government – to urgently introduce a two-week ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

It warned the UK faced a ‘very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences’ on its current course. The seven-day average of daily cases stood at 4,964; there were 1,502 Covid patients in hospital; and daily deaths stood at 28.

The Sage group proposed the circuit-breaker – a short period of lockdown to drive new infections down – to head off a second wave of the virus that ‘would fall disproportionately on the frailest in our society, [people on] lower incomes and BAME communities’.

In the Quad meeting the scientists had Cummings safely onside but even Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor who had been an implacable opponent of inflicting any more harm on the economy, was coming round to the idea of more restrictions.

‘Ever the pragmatist, he didn’t want to be lumbered with any political damage if Covid soared and he was seen to have argued for putting jobs before lives,’ said one insider.

But Boris, true to his libertarian instincts, was opposed to once more shutting shopping malls, pubs and restaurants.

The source added: ‘He warned of the huge impact it would have on the economy, on the mental health of people, and reminded everyone enforcing lockdowns comes with huge costs.’ He also knew politically there would be trouble among restive Tory MPs who were increasingly opposed to talk of more restrictions. It is a tribute to Boris’s force of personality and – it has to be said – the power of his office that his view prevailed.

Three days later, in another compromise with the scientists, the tier system was brought in. This divided England into medium, high and very high zones.

Even as he announced the new rules Boris was clear they would go no further.

‘The social and economic trauma of a full lockdown, shuttering our lives and our society… would do such damage to our economy as to erode our long-term ability to fund the NHS and other crucial public services,’ he said.

The very next day the news that Boris had overruled the scientists the previous month on the circuit-breaker was leaked to the media. The Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who had ordered his MPs to abstain in a Commons vote on the rule of six, saw his opportunity to score political points. He urged the Government to impose a circuit-breaker of between two and three weeks to prevent a ‘sleepwalk into… a bleak winter’.

While the Tories attacked Starmer’s opportunism, the public backed him, with 54 per cent surveyed by YouGov saying they felt the Government should have introduced a national lockdown in September, while just 28 per cent of the 4,222 adults polled disagreed.

Despite the growing pressure, Boris was sticking to his guns and at a press conference two days later said the Government ‘cannot rule anything out’, but expressed his desire to avoid a national lockdown because of ‘the damaging health, economic and social effects it would have’.

His stance won the backing of senior Tory MPs, including Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.

A few days later in the Commons, he uttered the phrase that would return to haunt him, when he condemned the idea of a second national lockdown as ‘the height of absurdity’ that would ‘turn the lights out’.

So the scene was set for the PM to announce the biggest U-turn of his premiership. He knew he now faced a greater political challenge than the first lockdown in March when much of the country was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He had been told months earlier by the scientists that a second wave in the winter would be more deadly and that he should manage the public’s expectations. But he had ignored that advice.

‘Typical Boris, he wanted to be bullish and optimistic, which is his nature. He couldn’t face dishing out a negative message all year round,’ says the source.

‘He wanted to be positive. He thought people were already fed-up without him adding to it, so decided to try to be upbeat.’

An admirable sentiment, and just like the mayor in Jaws. But things didn’t end well for the citizens of Amity.

Source: Read Full Article