The high-profile investigation into the “chatty rat” who leaked details of the government’s Covid lockdown plans is unlikely to be successful, the UK’s most senior civil servant has said.
“The prime minister has always been clear that we are very determined to see these inquiries completed,” he told MPs on the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC).
Last week, in a bombshell allegation, the prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said the prime minister suggested cancelling the probe when it emerged it might identify a friend of his partner Carrie Symonds.
And Cummings claimed that Mr Case had already assured the prime minister that neither he nor then director of communications Lee Cain was suspected of being to blame.
But Mr Case repeatedly declined today to confirm Mr Cummings’ claim that he had been cleared, telling MPs: “I am constrained in what I can say, because it is in the context of an ongoing investigation.”
The decision to order a lockdown last autumn proved extremely controversial, not least when it was leaked ahead of an official announcement.
Boris Johnson has today denied he told colleagues he would rather see bodies ‘pile high’ rather than order another shutdown of the UK economy.
Mr Case said the Speaker of the House of Commons had been updated on the progress of the probe. He also promised that its findings would be made public.
But he said that after such a long period of time it was now unlikely a culprit would be identified.
“I think it is probable that the team will not successfully identify the source”.
He also said the leak inquiry should be finished within “weeks”.
“I hope weeks rather than months,” he told the committee.
He refused to say whether or not the security services were involved in the investigation.
But he said that the leak was not being treated as a matter for the police.
A “gateway” meeting involving No 10, the police and the Crown Prosecution Service “concluded that this leak didn’t meet the threshold for an offence under the Official Secrets Act or the offence of misconduct in public office”, said Mr Case.
But he added that even if a leak did not amount to a criminal offence, that did not mean that no national security issues were involved.
Mr Case also told the committee that no investigation had been launched into claims that the prime minister had said he was willing to see “bodies piling up” rather than have another lockdown.
“That’s something I will have to take away, look into and discuss with the prime minister whether it is something we need to conduct an investigation into,” he said.
Mr Case came under pressure from a number of MPs on the panel over the delay in concluding the “chatty rat” inquiry after more than five months.
Labour’s John McDonnell said: “It is five months on. That hardly demonstrates prioritisation of what should be, to you and others, a serious matter. And at the same time as the inquiry drags on, No 10 spokespeople are able to issue statements trashing the name of others.”
Mr Case said there was “frustration” in government at the pace of the inquiry, but added: “These investigations are complex. There are usually many threads to them and a range of people to interview.
“These are professionals and they move as fast as they can.”
Mr Case also told MPs that the prime minister had asked him to investigate how the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat was paid for.
He also predicted that an announcement would be made soon on a successor to Sir Alex Allan , the prime minister’s adviser on standards, who resigned in the wake of the Priti Patel inquiry into allegations of bullying.
The role of independent adviser could be updated, including to allow the title holder to order their own investigations, he added. A number of MPs struggled to hide their frustration at Mr Case’s evidence to the committee.
Mr McDonnell compared the session to a “badly scripted version of Yes, Minister”.