Over the past weeks I have been taking stock of the many and varied emails and letters I have received from constituents. Thank you for taking the time to share your views.
The Prime Minister has offered his heartfelt apologies for things that he didn’t get right and for the way the whole matter has been handled. As I have said before, I realise many people have made enormous sacrifices over the last two years and I am especially sorry for those who have lost loved ones and who were not able to be there with them when they wanted and needed to be, and understandably for them these reported events are even more upsetting.
I am deeply concerned about the damage this matter is causing to the reputations of those who work across Government, including colleagues and Civil Servants, who in my experience have always done their diligent best. I therefore share the frustration that there are still some significant outstanding questions to answer and facts to be analysed. The decision over what can and cannot be published at present, rightly, rests with the Metropolitan Police and the Cabinet Office investigation. I would point to The Met’s own statement which requests ‘that any information identified as part of the Cabinet Office investigation about these events, is not disclosed in detail. This request only applies for the duration of our investigation and does not apply to events we are not investigating’.
In her recently released report, Civil Servant Sue Gray said: “No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.” Once the Met’s investigation has concluded Sue Gray will be presenting her final report and the Prime Minister has stated he will immediately publish in full what she gives him. At this juncture therefore, it would be inappropriate for me to make further comment about either of these inquiries other than to say that the Prime Minister is already acting on the recommendations Sue Gray did highlight regarding the learning that must be drawn from these events.
I realise that for some only the removal of the Prime Minister is an acceptable outcome. I have explained that I want to understand the full picture and for that we must await the outcome of the Met investigation. Once that concludes I will be back in touch. I want to see positive change. The recent staff changes are a step in the right direction, not least the Rt Hon Steve Barclay taking up the role as Chief of Staff and I shall be watching progress closely.
I am quite clear this situation needs sorting out once and for all so that we can continue to focus on delivering our policies that enable those we serve to have a brighter future: growing the economy, providing the skills and training that lead to jobs with higher wages, and creating the kind of sustainable environment I know from my work as the Environment Minister, we all want. We have already made great strides in all these areas whilst at the same time steering the nation through the challenges of the pandemic. Now we must continue to build on this, and I am certainly doing all I can as your local MP.
Over the last week I have engaged with many constituents about the May 20th, 2020 ‘party’ in Downing Street. I appreciate all the comments and concerns that have been shared with me.
The level of anger the reported ‘party’ in the garden, has caused, together with other reports of alleged events, is palpable as I know so many people have endured difficult and tough challenges over the last two years, including losing loved ones, being separated from family, and a myriad of other sacrifices. I am especially sorry for the upset this has caused to some individual constituents, with these reports bringing back particularly painful memories.
At PMQs last week, the Prime Minister rightly apologised. I know many people remain unhappy by his apology which is why I welcome the ongoing investigation into these allegations which will establish all the facts and report back as soon as possible. This is an independent investigation and is being led by the highly respected civil servant Sue Gray. The Terms of Reference of the investigation make clear that where there are credible allegations of gatherings, these will be looked at. It has been confirmed that this includes the allegations relating to November and December 2020 as well as 15th and 20th May 2020. It is right that we wait for the outcome of this investigation. If wrongdoing is established, the Government have been clear that appropriate disciplinary action will be taken.
As MPs, we have a vital responsibility to set an example, and that goes for those working for the Government too. Some constituents have asked me directly and I can absolutely confirm that I was not invited, nor attended any events in No 10 during lockdown. I have done all I can to observe the difficult but necessary restrictions since the onset of the pandemic and I share the anger across the country caused by these reported events and am very frustrated at their undermining nature.
I, as well as my constituency team, remain determined to continue to help Taunton Deane as we have done steadfastly since the onset of the pandemic. Indeed, we have continued to deliver on the priorities of the area. I also remain utterly focused on my work as Environment Minister. Over the last two years I have, with my team, delivered the Environment Act which is the largest piece of legislation to go through Government in two decades and will have a beneficial affect for us all. I will continue to do all I can to help ensure we leave our environment in a better state for future generations.
I am following developments on these reported events and like you, await the outcome of the investigation and then I will consider what actions are necessary.