Daily Mail

An impartial arbiter of standards and morals? ARE YOU JOKING!

- Andrew Pierce

All in all, it’s an impressive record. In the course of her distinguis­hed civil service career, Sue Gray brought down three Conservati­ve Cabinet ministers and wrecked the premiershi­p of Boris Johnson.

Now she has embroiled herself in the most serious controvers­y so far: being unveiled as Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Allies of Boris will argue that the appointmen­t of Gray, who once took time out from Whitehall to be a pub landlady in Northern Ireland, vindicates them.

They have always maintained that Gray’s 2022 report, which alleged a ‘failure of leadership and judgment’ in No 10, was a stitch-up.

After all, this was a woman who as a senior civil servant had urged Alastair Campbell – Tony Blair’s pugnacious communicat­ions chief who was famously involved in the row over the Iraq war dossier – to become a labour MP.

last night, there was widespread talk in Westminste­r that Starmer has made a serious mistake in appointing Gray as his most senior aide.

She is a top civil servant – currently the second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office – and is therefore required to be absolutely neutral with regard to party politics.

But the role of chief of staff to the leader of the Opposition is by definition political. By taking the job, Gray risks inflicting catastroph­ic damage on the civil service’s reputation for impartiali­ty.

Shewill also heighten suspicion that she was an undercover operator for the labour Party all along. last night, one incandesce­nt Boris ally described her to me as ‘an absolute snake’. This source added: ‘Sue Gray would come into No 10 all “Tweetie Pie”.

‘Sue Gray was presented to the public as an impartial arbiter of standards and morals.’

A current No 10 insider agreed, saying: ‘ The appointmen­t is absolutely nauseating.’

Certainly, this is far from Gray’s first connection to labour.

In her new role working with Starmer, she will be reunited with leila McIntyre, who worked in Downing Street while Gray was preparing her Partygate report.

McIntyre later became a labour Party press officer.

What’s more, Gray’s son liam Conlon, the chairman of the labour Party Irish Society, has in the past two weeks been campaignin­g in Uxbridge, which just happens to be Boris’s constituen­cy – held on a relatively slim margin of some 7,200 votes. Conlon is widely expected to be parachuted into a safe labour seat at the next general election.

And Gray has, to be clear, never shirked from castigatin­g Tories when the opportunit­y arose – even if it was arguably her job to do so.

While running the Cabinet Office’s ‘propriety and ethics team’ between 2012 and 2018, she claimed the scalps of no fewer than three senior Conservati­ves. In 2017 Damian Green, who was de facto deputy prime minister under Theresa May, resigned after lying about pornograph­y on his Commons computer. Gray’s report into his conduct sealed his fate.

In 2012, there was the ‘ Plebgate’ affair in which former Tory chief whip Andrew Mitchell was said to have insulted police officers by the Downing Street gates. Gray again led the inquiry that saw privately educated Mitchell resign.

A few months before that, liam Fox had quit as defence secretary over claims he broke the ministeria­l code. It followed weeks of pressure over his working relationsh­ip with Adam Werritty, a friend and supposed adviser. Again, Gray’s report was pivotal to Fox’s defenestra­tion.

The daughter of Irish immigrants, Gray, 65, joined the civil service straight from her Roman Catholic school in north london. Back in the 1980s, she took time out to run a pub – her mother, Anastasia, had been a barmaid.

Gray and her country-and-westernsin­ging Northern Irish husband, Bill Conlon, took on the Cove Bar in the border town of Newry, Northern Ireland. It was at the height of the Troubles in ‘ Bandit Country’ in a 200square-mile militarise­d zone bristling with road blocks and watchtower­s.

Conlon and his band, emerald, performed in the bar.

In 2017, one customer remembered her as ‘a good landlady’, adding that ‘she would have known not to open her mouth’ about her work for the British government.

Returning to the civil service and working across transport, health and work and pensions department­s, she joined the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s. Over the years she has witnessed many ministeria­l reshuffles.

One former minister said: ‘She was like a rat up a drainpipe as soon as a new administra­tion was formed. She was your new best friend, told you how wonderful your appointmen­t was, she would hug you if she knew you, and then told you what the rules are.’

The first public clue to her true political persuasion came in 2009 when Campbell wrote in his diaries that Gray had revealed to him her strong views on Gordon Brown’s government.

REVEALING that she had urged Campbell to run as an MP, he wrote: ‘ She felt labour were badly in need of direction and none of the people at the top could give it.’

last night, one minister told me: ‘I laughed out loud when I heard she’d got the job. We always suspected she was a closet leftie.

‘Now we know. Starmer has made a terrible mistake. The whole Partygate report now looks like a complete sham as less than one year later she is the leader of the labour Party’s most trusted official.

‘I think we should know how long they have been talking and whether they were in contact during her Partygate investigat­ion.’

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