UK civil service chief under pressure over new lockdown party claims – POLITICO

LONDON — As judgement day looms for Boris Johnson, the head of the U.K. civil service faces a nightmare of his own after details of a third alleged rule-breaking party in his department came to light.

Johnson is braced for the outcome of an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray into a series of claims about Downing Street and Whitehall staff breaking lockdown rules to hold social gatherings.

It will examine two parties held at Downing Street last April on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral, for which No. 10 apologized Friday to Buckingham Palace.

That investigation is now also expected to address the revelation that a leaving party was held in the Cabinet Office on December 17, 2020 for Kate Josephs, the former head of the government unit responsible for drawing up COVID restrictions. 

Josephs said in a statement posted on Twitter that she was “truly sorry.”

The Telegraph reported that a source with knowledge of the incident said that Simon Case, the head of the civil service, was invited to the Josephs event. The Cabinet Office said “categorically” that he did not attend.

Case was originally put in charge of the inquiry into Downing Street parties but recused himself last month after reports of lockdown-breaking social gatherings in his own department. Civil service officials claimed he had attended drinks outside his office in Whitehall in December 2020, as first reported by POLITICO and the Independent — allegations which were categorically denied by the Cabinet Office. 

Separately, the Times reported that Case attended another Christmas party in his department later in December 2020. The Cabinet Office acknowledged a virtual quiz had taken place but said the cabinet secretary “played no part in the event.”

The news of a third party at the Cabinet Office raises fresh questions about the role of Case in implementing any changes or sanctions against civil servants arising from Gray’s report. 

As cabinet secretary, Case is Gray’s boss and the ultimate arbiter of discipline in the civil service. 

A former Conservative minister said Case ought to have been the one “you might have thought would have been individually responsible for exercising a moral compass” and shutting down parties, but “he himself appeared not to recognize it for what it was.”

Whitehall staff who spoke to POLITICO and the Independent earlier this week voiced concerns about Case’s impartiality, with one saying that the cabinet secretary would effectively be “marking his own homework.”

Gray had been expected to deliver her report early next week, but it now faces a delay as new allegations pile up.

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