Daily Mail


■ Outrage as Sue Gray accepts plum job with Starmer ■ Boris allies say validity of her No 10 inquiry is ‘destroyed’ ■ Ex-PM ‘shocked and disgusted’ as angry Tories ask...

- By David Churchill, Martin Beckford and Jason Groves

THE appointmen­t of a top civil servant as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff shows the Partygate probe was a Labour ‘stitch-up’, Tory MPs claimed last night.

Sue Gray, who led the investigat­ion that heavily criticised Boris Johnson over Downing Street gatherings, dramatical­ly quit her job in Whitehall yesterday.

Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, led a chorus of critics who said Ms Gray’s appointmen­t showed the inquiry was a Labour plot to topple Mr Johnson. She called for the job switch to be blocked, claiming Ms Gray, 65, may have breached the civil service code with her supposedly ‘impartial’ report.

Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said that Ms Gray’s Partygate probe, which contribute­d to Mr Johnson’s downfall, was now looking like ‘a Left-wing stitch-up’.

Others pointed out that Ms Gray had led the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team, meaning she may know details of allegation­s against other Tories which could be exploited by Labour. She was also facing questions about whether she broke civil service rules by not immediatel­y declaring the approach she received

from Labour or her acceptance of the job before seeking approval from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointmen­ts. Cabinet Office staff are understood to have removed confidenti­al papers and government IT equipment from her house.

Rishi Sunak was last night under pressure to block the appointmen­t, with sources close to him not ruling out this option.

Sir Keir said he was ‘ delighted’ that the Cabinet Office enforcer had accepted the key role after handing in her notice. With his party riding high in the polls, the Labour leader had been looking for a mandarin with experience at the highest levels of Whitehall to lead his party into the next election.

But Ms Dorries said it meant the validity of the Partygate probe was now ‘completely destroyed’.

She told the Daily Mail: ‘ Sue Gray’s appointmen­t completely invalidate­s her Partygate report and shows that there was a deep-laid plot to get rid of Boris Johnson.’

Another ally of Mr Johnson added: ‘What’s so bad about it is that she isn’t just a top civil servant but

‘A serious breach of impartiali­ty’

‘Surprise and disappoint­ment’

[was] head of the propriety and ethics team, which basically means she knows everything.

‘She knows what’s on all the vetting forms and all the pre-appointmen­t discussion­s for pretty well all the ministers and special advisers of the past 12 years.

‘Is she supposed to just forget all this? And surely the privileges committee [the Commons panel investigat­ing whether Mr Johnson misled parliament over lockdown parties] can no longer use her evidence or evidence extracted by her.’

A third supporter of the former PM said Mr Johnson was ‘shocked and disgusted’. He added: ‘The validity of the Sue Gray investigat­ion and its findings is now completely destroyed.

‘This matter is surely a serious breach of civil service impartiali­ty and there can be no doubt the civil service code has been breached.

‘What was supposed to be an investigat­ion by independen­t civil servants is now revealed to have been carried out by someone who ultimately would go on to work for Keir Starmer.’

Ms Gray was second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communitie­s until her shock resignatio­n yesterday. Sir Keir is thought to have set his sights on her after being turned down by Sir Tom Scholar, the Treasury mandarin sacked by Liz Truss.

Ms Gray has spent most of her career in Whitehall. She joined the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s and came to the attention of the wider public when she was drafted in to investigat­e lockdown-breaking gatherings in Downing Street during the pandemic.

Her initial report, published in January last year, blamed a ‘failure of leadership’ at the top and said some events during the pandemic ‘should not have been allowed to take place’. A follow- up report included photograph­s of Mr Johnson at an impromptu birthday celebratio­n, which led to him being fined for breaching lockdown rules. He resigned as prime minister two months later.

Ms Gray informed the Cabinet Office yesterday that she was resigning with immediate effect. Civil service rules mean she will have to wait at least three months before she can start working for Sir Keir.

Tory peer Lord Cruddas, a strong supporter of Mr Johnson, tweeted: ‘Sue Gray report sent to privileges committee investigat­ing Boris. Surely this is conflict of interest ... report and committee has no credibilit­y. What a stitch-up.’

Mr Rees- Mogg posted: ‘ So much for an impartial civil service, the Gray report now looks like a Left-wing stitch- up against a Tory prime minister.’

Red Wall Tory MP Brendan Clarke- Smith added: ‘As a former Cabinet Office minister myself, I am genuinely shocked to see this. People will quite understand­ably be questionin­g the appropriat­eness of this appointmen­t, including issues of impartiali­ty.’ A senior Whitehall

official told the Politico website last night: ‘The general reaction of the main civil service heads of department is surprise and deep disappoint­ment. Their ability to advise fearlessly is based on their ability to be trusted. Everyone takes that extremely seriously.’

Labour MPs have posted messages on Twitter welcoming the appointmen­t. They included Chris Bryant, the chairman of the privileges committee who had to stand aside from the Partygate inquiry because of critical comments about Mr Johnson.

He wrote: ‘This is a great appointmen­t. It also proves we’re serious about preparing properly for proper government without taking anything at all for granted.’

A Labour Party spokesman said: ‘The Labour Party has offered Sue Gray the role of chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition.

‘We understand she hopes to accept the role subject to the normal procedures. Keir Starmer is delighted she is hoping to join our preparatio­ns for government and our mission to build a better Britain.’

The Cabinet Office confirmed that it was ‘reviewing the circumstan­ces’ under which Ms Gray had resigned.

A spokesman added: ‘We can confirm that Sue Gray has resigned. We will not be commenting further.’

NOT much shocks me after spending nearly 40 years writing about Westminste­r and Whitehall. From venality to stupidity, corruption to mendacity, I’ve seen it all. But yesterday’s appointmen­t by Sir Keir Starmer of Sue Gray, the civil servant who led the Partygate inquiry, as his chief of staff is not just shocking.

It is grotesque, appalling and cynical. It is a betrayal of the fundamenta­l principle of neutrality that the civil service is meant to embody. It will be bound to fuel suspicions that the Partygate probe into Boris Johnson’s time as prime minister was a Labour plot all along.

And it is, one must also admit, a vindicatio­n of Boris Johnson.

As it happens, I am no fan of the ex-PM — and shed no tears when he left No 10. But even as a critic of Boris, I believe that there is only one phrase to capture Sue Gray’s appointmen­t to this plum Labour role. It stinks.

And it has also made me rethink entirely my attitude towards what now appear to be clearly partisan inquiries into Mr Johnson’s behaviour during the pandemic.

For many months last year, you will remember, Mr Johnson’s allies made clear that they believed Ms Gray’s probe was little more than a stitch-up — that his Establishm­ent and Labour opponents were hell-bent on getting revenge for Brexit and determined to do him in.

After the first chair of the inquiry into ‘lockdown-busting’ events at Downing Street, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, recused himself from proceeding­s amid claims he had broken the rules himself, it was vital for Sue Gray to be whiter than white.

Her job was highly unusual. She was investigat­or, judge and jury in one of the most politicall­y explosive inquiries in modern history.

Her allies silkily assured us all that she was the embodiment of impartiali­ty, in claims that now ring deeply hollow today. But even the early signs were far from encouragin­g.

It was, after all, a puzzle why Ms Gray kept in place one of her key advisers on the report, Daniel Stilitz QC, despite him publicly accusing the Tories of ‘ serving up bile’ and his retweeting of a post describing Mr Johnson as ‘our reckless dangerous PM’. Tellingly, in a 2016 post, Stilitz wrote: ‘Why not join Labour? Now seems as good a time as any.’


It was, of course, nakedly partisan — and wholly inappropri­ate for such an investigat­ion. Now we know better. Critics will be asking whether it was because of Mr Stilitz’s brazen political bias that Ms Gray was so happy to see him in his post in the first place.

Of course, none of us can know what went on in Ms Gray’s mind as she conducted her inquiry, which was finally published in May last year. Some recalcitra­nt Remainers believe she did not go far enough in censuring Boris, while allies of the former PM insist that she went too far.

But perception is what truly matters.

And in going to work at the heart of the Labour Party in the run-up to a General Election — taking with her an intricate and high-level understand­ing of the Government’s legislativ­e agenda — she has trashed everything she purported to uphold while working at Whitehall. No wonder so many civil servants, whatever their private political beliefs, are admitting they are furious about her taking the job.

Imagine if a judge in an Old Bailey trial sent down the boss of a business, convicting him of a serious crime, and then within months left the judiciary to go and work for the convicted man’s leading competitor. There would, rightly, be outrage.

But that is more or less what Ms Gray is now seeking to do — even if her appointmen­t to work for Sir Keir must still be cleared by the quango that rubber- stamps jobs for departing civil servants.

All along, throughout the interminab­le Partygate farrago, the Mail has doggedly insisted that it bore the taint of a Labour- Remainer stitch-up, and that Boris never stood a chance of getting a fair hearing.

I will be honest. Until yesterday, I had my doubts. I still believed in our ‘ RollsRoyce’ civil service and its ability to conduct such an inquiry fairly, no matter how politicall­y charged.

Naively, perhaps, I thought that distinguis­hed mandarins rose to the top of their profession thanks to their sense of public service and their willingnes­s to do the legitimate bidding of any government that had won power in a fair and free election.


I assumed they left their own political beliefs at the door — or resigned on principle if they could not effect the wishes of the ministers they served.

Sue Gray has shown me what a fool I was.

It goes without saying that, in a single moment, she has destroyed the public’s faith in the integrity of her own report. Nobody will take it seriously now. She will be seen as having confirmed every accusation of bias against the Whitehall machine.

For me, this is a deeply personal moment. My father, Bernard Pollard, was a civil servant all his working life.

He ended his career as a permanent secretary — the highest rank in the Whitehall pecking order.

Neutrality was so essential to him that, to this day — and even though I endlessly told him about my own political leanings during adolescenc­e and beyond — I still have no idea which way he voted.

Dad was so determined to avoid the taint of bias that we would undergo the same ritual every Christmas.

Someone — I never found out who, but I can only assume it was a minister or another senior party figure — would send him a hamper. And, every year, he would have it sent straight back, with a polite card declining the gift.

He knew that the appearance of bias was just as bad as the real thing — and that in some ways, it was worse.

Frankly, my father would have been disgusted by today’s top mandarins. They think nothing of accepting freebies to Wimbledon and sold- out pop concerts. And when they get bored of pretending to be neutral, like Ms Gray, they betray their allegiance­s and sign up to the party they clearly preferred all along.

Her move must now be approved by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointmen­ts (ACOBA), the body that looks at civil servants’ new jobs outside Whitehall. Chaired by former Tory minister Eric Pickles, it is difficult to see how it can fairly approve Ms Gray’s new role, given all of the above. This will be a test of its independen­ce.

I know that in my father’s day, British public life had its faults. But it was nonetheles­s widely held up as a model of propriety, with an impartial civil service to which the world looked for an example.

Today, large parts of Whitehall simply exist as another branch of the Left-wing Blob.

Sue Gray’s behaviour has been shameful, yes. But at least, from now on, no one can doubt what it means.

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