Dozens of civil servants and special advisers are in line for questioning as part of the investigation into who leaked prime minister Boris Johnson’s plans for a second national Covid lockdown days before they were due to be made public.
The leak bounced Johnson into announcing the plans for the lockdown – which came into effect last week – on the hoof, hours after newspapers reported the move was under consideration.
This followed a meeting of the government’s Covid-19 quad committee on October 30.
It has been reported that chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and health secretary Matt Hancock, who were all present at the meeting, all had their mobile-phone data analysed as part of the investigation.
Jnvestigators are now planning to interview up to 70 civil servants and special advisers, according to a “well placed source” quoted in the Daily Telegraph.
"It isn't just the ministers who attended the meeting who are under suspicion. There might have only been around a dozen people in the room, but they then have to brief their offices and, before you know it, 70 people know about it within the hour,” the paper quoted the source saying.
"So it could have been any one of dozens of people, and not necessarily someone who was actually in the room. It also could have been briefed by more than one person."
The Telegraph said No.10 Downing Street had “angrily” rejected the suggestion that a member of its communications team revealed information on the lockdown plans three days before Johnson intended to announce the move in parliament.
“It makes no sense,” a No.10 source said. “The leak infuriated the PM and caused us no end of problems.”
The multiple delays to Johnson’s October 31 announcement of the second lockdown and subsequent revisions to the package of job support measures proposed at the time tend to support the source’s argument.
The Telegraph said the leak probe was dubbed “Operation Chatty Rat”.