Boris Johnson’s former head of communications has claimed the ex-prime minister referred to partygate investigator Sue Gray as “psycho”.
Guto Harri – who worked for Mr Johnson when he was London Mayor and joined his Downing Street team in 2022 – told LBC his boss was “getting suspicious” of the senior civil servant during her inquiry as to whether she was biased.
And he claimed that by the time the report was published, the then PM “thought there was no perspective and things were completely out of all proportion in the way partygate was viewed”.
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Mr Harri, who is promoting a podcast about his time in Number 10, also claimed Mr Johnson “squared up” to the King when he was still the heir to the throne over his reported criticism of the government’s policy to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Sources close to Mr Johnson said both of Mr Harri’s accounts were “inaccurate”.
Johnson was ‘suspicious’ of Gray
Ms Gray was appointed by Downing Street to lead the inquiry into lockdown-breaking parties back in December 2021 after cabinet secretary Simon Case had to step back from the role, having attended a gathering himself.
In May last year, her report concluded that “senior leadership” had to bear responsibility for the behaviour.
At the time, Mr Johnson said he took “full responsibility for everything that took place under my watch”adding he and the government were “humbled” and had “learned a lesson”.
But the senior civil servant’s reputation was questioned in March of this year after Sky News revealed Labor had been in talks with her to take over as the party’s chief of staff.
Some Tory MPs who had once accepted her conclusions claimed the report was a “stitch-up”, with friends of Mr Johnson calling it “a deliberate and manufactured plot to oust a Brexit-backing Conservative prime minister”.
However, Sky News understands that talks between Ms Gray and Labor only began after her inquiry had concluded.
Speaking to LBC, Mr Harri said Mr Johnson “had respected her a lot”, but added: “By the time I got there, I think he was understandably getting suspicious, and by the end we were all extremely suspicious of this woman.”
The former adviser – who was not working in Number 10 during the height of the pandemic – said Ms Gray’s conclusions were “not this objective dispassionate view of what really went on”, adding: “If you are brutally honest… there are many people who behaved badly during that period, none of them are in the public domain, none of them have been mentioned, it was all landed on one guy because he happened to be the guy at the top.
“Now the guy at the top or the woman at the top obviously takes the hit for a lot of things that go wrong in their organizations wherever they are, but to pin everything on one man and allow everyone else, the people that were actually partying a free hand, including some of the people who pushed the story hardest, was wrong.
“And as for Sue Gray, we all know what she wants to do next – she wants to work for Keir Starmer.”
Asked what Mr Johnson thought of Ms Gray, he said: “One word maybe that will be recurring in [my podcast]… ‘psycho Sue Gray’ would be part of it.
“There was a sense that she lacked perspective on what he had done, there is a sense… there was no perspective and things were completely out of all proportion in the way partygate was viewed.”
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Clash with the new King
Mr Harri also went into detail in the Daily Mail about the “tense relationship” between Mr Johnson and the then Prince Charles over the Rwanda scheme.
In his article, he said things “took a dramatic turn for the worse” after reports the monarch had called the scheme “appalling”.
The controversial policy was announced by Mr Johnson while he was prime minister in 2022with the aim of sending people who arrived in the UK on small boats to the African country to be processed.
Despite both his successors in Downing Street supporting the plan, no flight has taken place yet and the scheme is still facing numerous legal challenges.
Shortly after the policy was announced, Mr Johnson and the King both traveled to Rwanda for a Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in June 2022 and held talks.
The then prime minister allegedly told his adviser he “went in quite hard” about the criticism during the conversation, “essentially squaring up to the prince and confronting him about what he – as unelected royalty – had said about the actions of the democratically elected government “.
Mr Harri said the King had been “caught out”, adding: “Though he tried to play down his criticisms of the policy, Boris pointed out the obvious. ‘If you didn’t say it,’ he told him, ‘we both know your people could ring the newspapers and kill the story. The fact they haven’t done that says it all’.”
The former Number 10 spin doctor also claimed Mr Johnson warned the now King against making a speech about the impact of slavery at the summit.
“The PM was appalled,” he wrote. “And he warned the prince in plain English: ‘I wouldn’t talk about slavery or you’ll end up being forced to sell the Duchy of Cornwall to pay reparations to those whose ancestors built it.'”
Mr Harri said “relations never recovered” between the two men after the meeting, adding: “Our new King will be relieved that Boris had left Number 10 by the time he ascended to the throne.”
Sources close to Mr Johnson told Sky News Mr Harri’s account was “simply inaccurate and does not reflect the conversation that took place”, adding: “Boris Johnson has had nothing to do with this podcast, had no knowledge of it and deplores any attempt to report such conversations in public.”
Friends of Mr Johnson added he deeply disapproved of the leaking of conversations with the then heir to the throne and would never do so.
A source close to Mr Johnson also called the claim he referred to Ms Gray as psycho “inaccurate”.
Sky News has contacted Buckingham Palace for comment.