Simon Case, head of the UK civil service, fears he will receive a Metropolitan Police fine for breaking coronavirus restrictions, senior officials said, as they suggested he was looking for an escape route from Westminster.
The cabinet secretary is one of a number of senior government figures to receive a questionnaire from the Met over the partygate scandal involving rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.
He was in attendance at a surprise birthday gathering held for Prime Minister Boris Johnson in June 2020 when indoor social gatherings were banned. The Met fined the prime minister, along with his wife Carrie and chancellor Rishi Sunak, for their attendance at the event.
More than 100 partygate fixed penalty notices have been issued but Case has not received any. However, three senior Whitehall officials told the Financial Times Case had told colleagues of his “expectation” he might receive one if the Met followed the same precedent for the prime minister and chancellor.
One well-placed civil servant said: “The fact Rishi [Sunak] was in that situation and has been fined, lots of people are asking ‘why hasn’t Simon been fined?’ He was in exactly the same place.” Another said: “Everyone is braced for Simon potentially being fined.”
In response to queries about his future, the cabinet office said: “The cabinet secretary’s entire focus is on leading the civil service and delivering on the priorities of the government.”
Those involved with the government’s response to the Met’s partygate fines said there was “absolutely no discernible strategy” to the order in which the Met was issuing fines, with interviews and questionnaires being issued for different events at different times.
Case may therefore still be fined for the June 2020 event, weeks after Sunak and Johnson received and paid their fixed penalty notices for breaking Covid restrictions.
If Case is fined, there is a widespread expectation in the cabinet office and Downing Street that his position would be vulnerable. Relations between Johnson and Case have frayed since the departure of the former Number 10 chief aide Dominic Cummings.
One person close to the situation said: “His situation would probably become untenable. How could he lead the civil service if he has found to have broken the law?”
Those who have spoken to Case about a potential fine think his future would depend on the political pressure from Downing Street and the cabinet. “He will have strategies in mind, but a lot of it will depend on political will,” one said. Another said: “If he stays, it would be dependent on the cabinet not baying for his blood.”
Case is also expected to face pressure over management of the government from an internal Whitehall inquiry into partygate being led by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant.
If Case is forced to quit over a fine, colleagues believe it would be “quite logical” for him to return to academia. Before he joined the civil service, he undertook a PhD at Queen Mary University of London.
But one official close to Case denied that he was actively exploring opportunities outside Whitehall.
If Johnson is forced out over the partygate scandal, however, Case would likely seek to stay on to maintain continuity in government and a smooth transfer of power.
One senior official said: “There have been discussions in 70 Whitehall [home of the cabinet office] that if the PM had to go, there is a strong argument that Simon would stay for a period to oversee a handover to another PM before placing his future in the hands of the new PM.”