Cabinet secretary Simon Case has admitted an ongoing inquiry may never identify the culprit behind the leak of information about the UK’s second coronavirus lockdown last year.
Case told MPs yesterday he hopes the inquiry, which began in October after details of the lockdown appeared in the press before an official announcement, will conclude within “weeks rather than months”.
He said the conclusions would be presented to parliament, but warned: “Given the time that has now passed, I think it’s probable that the team will not successfully identify the source or sources, but work is ongoing.”
He said the fact that the inquiry has not yet concluded is a "clear indication that the source or sources haven't been identified".
Following repeated questioning by the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, he said he could not give a more precise timeline for the inquiry because of the “complex” nature of the work.
However, he told the MPs – who expressed frustration that the exercise is taking so long – that the inquiry into the so-called “chatty rat" remains a priority. He said there is “widespread anger” about the leak and that MPs and the public will want answers.
The inquiry has not been "in any way deprioritised", he said, adding: "It is in the hands of professional investigators who have a range of tools and techniques at their disposal.”
Case also rebuffed a claim by the prime minister’s former top political adviser Dominic Cummings that the PM had considered asking the cab sec to stop the inquiry.
In a 1,000-word blog post, Cummings claimed that Boris Johnson had wanted to stop the probe because it had implicated adviser Henry Newman, his fiancee Carrie Symonds's friend, among others.
Cummings said the prime minister was concerned he would have to fire Newman, which would cause "serious problems with Carrie" and said: "perhaps we could get the cabinet secretary to stop the leak inquiry?"
Questioned about the allegation, Case said: "In relation to this particular leak and others, the prime minister has always been clear [that he is] very determined to see these inquiries complete."
Case declined to address other claims made by Cummings – including that the PM knows the ex-spad is not to blame for the leak.
"I am constrained in what I can say because it's in the context of an ongoing investigation,” he said.
During the session, MPs on the committee grew increasingly impatient with Case’s refusal to answer some of their questions about the investigation. He said he could not comment on whether particular individuals had been cleared of leaking, or the procedure being followed in this exercise – although he did talk more broadly about how inquiries in general are conducted.