The Independent

Partygate probe chief lands Labour job as Tories cry foul


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 rulebreaki­ng Covid parties at No 10 and Whitehall, quit her senior role at the Cabinet Office yesterday 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 yesterday.

Ms Gray is thought to have applied to Advisory Committee on Business Appointmen­ts (ACOBA) – the watchdog which scrutinise­s roles taken by ex-ministers and top civil servants – only yesterday about the job. 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.

But the watchdogs have proved unenforcea­ble in the past. Although Acoba can offer recommenda­tions on the suitabilit­y of post-government roles, it is ultimately up to Rishi Sunak to sanction or block 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 peer Lord Cruddas – another Johnson backer – pointed out that the Gray report had been sent to the privileges committee currently investigat­ing whether the former PM lied to parliament. “Surely this is a conflict of interest, report and [the privileges] committee has no credibilit­y. What a stitch-up,” he tweeted. One source close to 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. News of Ms Gray’s Labour job caused anger among Conservati­ve MPs at an away day at the luxury Windsor Fairmont Hotel organised by Mr Sunak. Brendan Clarke-Smith was “genuinely shocked” and said people would understand­ably question the “impartiali­ty” of the Partygate report. But the Tories also joked about the Partygate saga at a quiz at the end of their election strategy session. In a “famous sayings” round they were asked about Conor Burns’ infamous defence of Mr Johnson – that he had been “ambushed by cake”.

Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representi­ng senior civil servants, said it was “unforgivab­le” for Tory MPs 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.” Whitehall

officials were stunned by the “pretty unpreceden­ted” move – with one reacting to reports by saying: “Oh Christ.”

Alex Thomas, from The Institute for Government think tank, said the move would be “difficult for the civil service”, saying it would give “critics a stick”, adding: “Tricky developmen­t for those defending impartiali­ty.” Mr Johnson eventually received one of the 126 fines issued by the Metropolit­an Police while investigat­ing parties in Downing Street and Whitehall that breached lockdown laws.

A Labour spokespers­on said: “The Labour Party has offered Sue Gray the role of chief of staff. We understand she hopes to accept the role subject to normal procedures. Keir Starmer is delighted she is hoping to join our preparatio­ns for government and our mission to build a better Britain.”

The appointmen­t comes as the latest figures showed Labour raised £7.2m in donations between October and December 2022 – £2.4m more than the Tories (who raised only £4.8m). Data from the Electoral Commission shows Labour raised £3.2m in individual donations while the Tories raised £3.6m, narrowing the gap when it comes to support from wealthy backers. The £2m given by Lord Sainsbury, returning to Labour after the Jeremy Corbyn era, was the party’s single biggest donation of the year. He said he wanted “to see Keir Starmer become prime minister as soon as possible”.

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 ?? (PA) ?? Sue Gray is set to become Keir Starmer’s chief of staff
(PA) Sue Gray is set to become Keir Starmer’s chief of staff
 ?? (PA) ?? Grey’s report l ed to Johnson and Sunak being fined for attending a birthday party inside No 10
(PA) Grey’s report l ed to Johnson and Sunak being fined for attending a birthday party inside No 10

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