Officials ‘seize confidential papers and IT equipment’ from the home of ‘Partygate’ investigator Sue Gray as calls grow for Rishi Sunak to block her move to Labour’s top team
- Gray sparked fury among Tories as she resigned today to take a job with Labour
- Tory MPs are urging PM Rishi Sunak to use powers to block or delay Gray’s move
Government officials are understood to have seized confidential papers and IT equipment from the home of ‘Partygate’ investigator Sue Gray today.
The former civil servant, who was in charge of ethics at the Cabinet Office, sparked fury among the Conservatives after resigning today to take a job in Labour’s top team.
An ally of Rishi Sunak has said the Prime Minister is prepared to block or delay her appointment as Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff, with Tories urging him to veto her move.
The Prime Minister has the right to stop a senior civil servant from taking up a job outside Whitehall if the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments warns him it is ‘unsuitable’.
It is understood the power has never been used and mandarins have only ever been told to wait up to two years before starting a controversial new role.
Sue Gray, who was in charge of ethics at the Cabinet Office, sparked fury among the Conservatives after resigning today to take a job in Labour’s top team
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is seen holding a drink at a gathering in 10 Downing Street on the departure of a special adviser amid Covid restrictions
When Ms Gray was in charge of ethics at the Cabinet Office, she forced the head of the Downing Street honours team, Laura Wyld, to wait almost a year before she took up a seat in the Lords.
NOW STOP THE KANGAROO COURT
Sue Gray’s appointment as Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff may also offer Boris Johnson a lifeline.
The full, unredacted version of Ms Gray’s report into ‘Partygate’ has been submitted to the long-delayed controversial parliamentary inquiry into whether the former prime minister misled the Commons.
And his supporters say the new allegations about her potential bias could derail the Privileges Committee probe, which was finally expected to question Mr Johnson within the next few months.
Tory MP Craig Mackinlay wrote online: ‘Her dossier will form a key part of the Privileges Committee work to determine the parliamentary career of a Conservative colleague.
‘Does this smell right?’
The Commons Partygate inquiry was launched in April last year but has still not held a single evidence session with witnesses. It is being led by former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, who has publicly criticised Mr Johnson’s conduct, leading Tory critics to complain that the former PM is facing a ‘kangaroo court’.
If the committee finds him guilty, it could recommend Mr Johnson is suspended from Parliament, potentially forcing him to fight a difficult by-election in his west London constituency.
Senior Conservatives say Ms Gray’s desire to work for Labour discredits her report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, published less than a year ago, and raises concerns about her passing sensitive information on the Government to the opposition in the future.
She served as director general for propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018, meaning she was involved in reshuffles and inquiries into rule-breaking by ministers.
Former Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said: ‘It is such an obvious conflict of interest that it should be blocked.’
Ms Gray, who was second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities until her abrupt resignation yesterday, is also facing accusations she may have broken civil service rules by not declaring the approaches she had received from Sir Keir or her acceptance of the job before asking approval from the ACOBA watchdog.
The Cabinet Office said it was ‘reviewing the circumstances under which she resigned’.
An ally of Mr Sunak said: ‘The ACOBA process exists to ensure that people with access to privileged information cannot simply depart government and go to work for organisations that will benefit from that privileged information.
‘The Prime Minister believes passionately in the principle of civil service impartiality and would not countenance anything that would compromise that.’ Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries said: ‘Sue Gray’s appointment completely invalidates her Partygate report and shows there was a deep-laid plot to get rid of Boris Johnson.
‘The former PM accepted her two reports on the strict understanding that she was impartial… No confidence can now be placed in any evidence that she secured or passed to the police in respect of the gatherings in No 10.
A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s Cabinet Office Second Permanent Secretary Sue Gray speaking during the Welsh Affairs Committee, in London, on March 23, 2022
‘There should be an immediate investigation into her appointment by Labour and all her contacts with the office of the leader of the opposition. Her appointment needs to be blocked immediately by ACOBA pending the outcome of that investigation.
‘It would appear that Sue Gray has breached the civil service code by writing a supposedly impartial report when, at best, her true allegiance must have been in her mind and, at worst, she was biased by the prospect of a job with Labour.
‘The Sue Gray report is now utterly discredited along with all the testimony that she collated.
‘It seems that she has been joined in her defection to Labour by a Cabinet Office civil servant who was fined by the police and leaked stories. Her legal adviser was a Left-wing QC who repeatedly called for Boris Johnson to be removed.
‘This was a shameful stitch-up that has now been exposed.’
Senior Whitehall officials are said to be furious about the damage done to the civil service’s reputation for political neutrality. Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm issued a reminder to staff to stay out of politics.
‘You serve the elected government of the day,’ he said.
A TIDAL WAVE OF FURY
NADINE DORRIES (former culture secretary): ‘Sue Gray’s appointment completely invalidates her Partygate report and shows that there was a deep laid plot to get rid of Boris Johnson. The former PM accepted her two reports on the strict understanding that she was impartial.’
JACOB REES-MOGG (former business secretary): ‘So much for an impartial Civil Service, the Gray report now looks like a Left-wing stitch up against a Tory prime minister.’
BRENDAN CLARKE-SMITH (former parliamentary secretary for the Cabinet Office): ‘I am genuinely shocked to see this. After the events of last year, people will quite understandably be questioning the appropriateness of this appointment, including issues of impartiality surrounding Partygate.’
SIMON CLARKE (former levelling up secretary): ‘This is extraordinary news. Sue Gray has a long history of public service, but to move into such a significant political post given her pivotal role in events over the last year will raise a whole host of questions. Neutrality stood at the core of her credibility.’
ALEXANDER STAFFORD (Tory party vice-chairman): ‘The Civil Service is meant to be impartial and above party politics. A very dodgy decision by Labour and Keir and it needs to be rejected to protect the integrity of our Civil Service.’
EDDIE HUGHES (former levelling up minister): ‘As a former minister at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities when Sue was there, I’m incredibly disappointed to read this. The supposed neutrality of the Civil service is completely undermined by a switch like this.’
CRAIG MACKINLAY (Tory MP): ‘I’m bound to be partisan, but I defended independence of this civil servant on her Partygate brief last year. Her dossier will form a key part of the Privileges Committee work to determine the parliamentary career of a Conservative colleague. Does this smell right?’
PAUL BRISTOW (Tory MP): ‘This would be a laughable appointment if the optics weren’t so serious. It raises question about the impartiality of our entire senior Civil Service. Anyone who cares about this should be concerned with this appointment. Wrong on so many levels.’
MARCO LONGHI (Tory MP): ‘Wow. So much for impartiality. We now know the true motivations behind the investigation. There is a real stench to this.’
LEE ANDERSON (Tory party deputy chairman): ‘The impartial Civil Service, eh? Whichever way you look at this, it just does not seem right. Or does it?’
ANDREA LEADSOM (former business secretary): ‘Surely not? How can the ex-head of propriety and ethics jump into a political role, in opposition to the government she just served? With no break? Seriously?’
PETER BONE (former Commons deputy leader): ‘You have got to be joking!’
FRIEND OF BORIS JOHNSON: ‘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 validity of the Sue Gray investigation and its findings is now completely destroyed.’
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