The education secretary was repeatedly asked during broadcast interviews if he knew who had arranged the meeting and said he did not know but insisted the prime minister would “never intervene in Sue Gray’s investigation”.
The prime minister is facing pressure to “urgently explain” why the talks took place, with Labour arguing public confidence in the process had already been “depleted” and people “deserve to know the truth”.
It is understood the pair met at least once to give an update on the document’s progress while it was being drafted, but a Whitehall source said its contents were not discussed at any point.
The exact nature of the talks remains unclear.
Such meetings would not have been viewed as unusual, the source said, with the aim to take stock of what stage the report was at.
It was initially reported by the BBC that the discussions touched on whether photos would be revealed to the public and that Ms Gray initiated the meeting “to clarify her intentions” for what would happen once the police investigation concluded.
However, a spokesman for the Gray inquiry disputed this account of events.
A No 10 source insisted the request for the meeting did not come from Mr Johnson.
It has been reported the idea was in fact suggested by a No 10 official while the calendar invite was sent by Ms Gray.
This version of events was corroborated to the PA news agency by one source close to the inquiry, but uncertainty remains over the circumstances that led to the talks.
Yesterday, Mr Zahawi repeatedly failed to say who called the meeting between Mr Johnson and Ms Gray, conceding he did not know the answer.
He told Sky News’ ‘Sophy Ridge on Sunday’ programme: “All I can say to you is the meeting that took place between Sue Gray and the prime minister – I can’t tell you who called the meeting.”
He later added: “I don’t know who called the meeting.” Asked what was discussed, he also said: “I don’t know.”
Asked if he could not say who called the meeting because he did not ask No 10, or because it did not tell him, Mr Zahawi said: “(I’ll) tell you what the answer is, the answer is very simple.
“The answer is the prime minister will never intervene in Sue Gray’s investigation.”