Kay Burley interviewing chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke (Photo: Sky News)
Kay Burley repeatedly pointed out just why Sue Gray’s report into partygate should not be described as independent during an uncomfortable interview with a minister.
The internal probe, led by senior civil servant Gray, is set to be published this week now the Metropolitan Police’s investigation concluded after handing out 126 fines.
However, eyebrows have been raised after prime minister Boris Johnson had a “secret” meeting with Gray over the report’s publication.
Sky News presenter Burley subsequently pointed out to Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury: “The optics are not good, are they, when the prime minister, has a private meeting with the person who is writing the report.”
Clarke replied: ″The civil service is independent, I think it’s important that we reaffirm that this process is totally independent of any political pressure.”
Burley pushed: “Who’s her boss?”
“Her boss is Simon Case, the cabinet secretary.”
She said: “And who’s his boss?”
“Well, ultimately the prime minister is in charge of the government,” but he added: “The civil service stands apart from the political structures of government.”
He continued, claiming Gray is one of the “most respected” figures in the civil service.
Clarke said: “I do not believe in any way that we should conflate the fact that the prime minister obviously sits atop the whole government, from the fact that the civil service is capable from standing apart from the political issues of the day.”
“The optics are somewhat askew,” Burley pointed out once again.
“I really, really don’t think so. There are lots of genuine practical issues, when publishing a report of this nature which has significance not just for the prime minister himself, but for many people who do not have a voice and platform, very junior civil servants, very junior political staffers – the question of whether any of them are named in the report, the questions included within in it.
“The questions are not straightforward here and are genuinely sensitive for people’s lives, careers and public profiles.”
Burley said: ″But he shouldn’t be getting involved in that, should he, if it’s an independent report?”
“I do not believe this meeting was anything other than a discussion of the technicalities of the process. It would be genuinely wrong to impugn there has been any pressure put on the nature of this report, in any way.”
#KayBurley - The optics aren't good when the PM has a private meeting with Sue Gray?
Simon Clarke - The Civil Service is independent#KayBurley - Who's her boss?
SC - Simon Case
KB - & who's his boss?#BBCBreakfastpic.twitter.com/OhKWRmRDeY
— Haggis_UK 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@Haggis_UK) May 23, 2022
It’s also worth noting that Johnson did actually order the inquiry himself when the partygate revelations started to come to light.
He also set the terms of reference for her report, and Gray handed the review to the prime minister first before it was sent to the police to help them conduct their own criminal investigation into the Downing Street lockdown parties.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.