Tory fury as Partygate investigator Sue Gray made Keir Starmer’s chief of staff
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is set to appoint Sue Gray – the senior civil servant who oversaw the Partygate inquiry into Boris Johnson’s government – to be his new chief of staff.
The move sparked outrage from Jacob Rees-Mogg and other Johnson allies, who claimed the Sue Gray report now appeared to be a “left-wing stitch up” aimed at undermining the ex-PM.
Ms Gray, who led the investigation into rule-breaking Covid parties at No 10 and Whitehall, quit her senior role at the Cabinet Office on Thursday with a view to joining Sir Keir’s team.
A Labour spokesperson confirmed Ms Gray had been offered the chief of staff job and said Sir Keir was “delighted” that she is hoping to join the team.
However, the Cabinet Office is “reviewing the circumstances” under which Ms Gray resigned on Thursday afternoon.
It is not clear that she accepted the job from Labour before notifying the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA), the watchdog which scrutinises jobs taken by ex-ministers and top civil servants.
She may have to wait at least three months before she can start a new role, according to rules for permanent secretaries or equivalent figures leaving government departments.
Although Acoba can make recommendations on the suitability of post-government roles, it is ultimately up to Rishi Sunak to sanction any appointment.
Senior Tories shared outrage at the idea of the senior figure taking a top job with Labour. They pointed to Ms Gray’s role in key events which led to Mr Johnson’s downfall, accusing her of bias.
Her damning report on “failures of leadership” led to a Metropolitan Police probe which saw Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak fined for attending a birthday party inside No 10.
Nadine Dorries, a top Johnson loyalist, said the move was “not surprising” – claiming Ms Gray’s Partygate report was a “stitch up” of the ex-PM and his staff.
Mr Rees-Mogg added: “So much for an impartial civil service, the Gray report now looks like a left-wing stitch up against a Tory prime minister.”
Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith, very briefly a junior Cabinet Office minister said he was “genuinely shocked” and said people understandably be questioning the “impartiality” of the Partygate report.
Tory peer Lord Cruddas – another Johnson backer – pointed out that the Gray report had been sent to privileges committee currently investigating whether the former PM lied to parliament. “Surely this is conflict of interest, report and [the privileges] committee has no credibility. What a stitch up,” he tweeted.
One well-placed friend of Mr Johnson claimed the validity and findings of Ms Gray’s Partygate report had been “completely destroyed”.
“Keir Starmer appointing Sue Gray as his chief of staff reveals what many have suspected all along – Partygate was a deliberate and manufactured plot to oust a Brexit-backing Conservative prime minister,” the ally said.
Tory MP Mark Jenkinson responded by saying “all part of the plan” with a pair of eyes emoiji, also suggesting Ms Gray had shown bias against Mr Johnson or his government.
But Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representing senior civil servants said it was “unforgiveable” to question Ms Gray’s integrity during the Partygate probe.
“I can understand why some people are surprised or disappointed that Sue Gray has resigned and may take up the role with Labour. What’s unforgivable, from people who know and worked with her, is question her integrity over the Partygate report.”