The senior civil servant led the inquiry into Partygate and has now accepted a job as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff causing uproar amongst some Conservative MPs. Is their outrage justified?
“Sue Gray”Boris Johnson, Former Prime Minister
“Sue Gray”Liz Truss, Former Prime Minister
“Sue Gray”Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister
“Well let’s just tell you a little bit more about Sue Gray…”Victoria Derbyshire, BBC News
“Thank you Mr Speaker, I’d like to thank Sue Gray for the diligence and professionalism with which she’s carried out her work.”Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour Party
Last week, Labour leader Keir Starmer announced he’d offered senior civil servant Sue Gray a new job, as his Chief of Staff.
Later, Downing Street confirmed that Sue Gray had resigned with “immediate effect” from her position as the Second Permanent Secretary at the Cabinet Office.
She’d accepted Keir Starmer’s offer.
“They used to call Sue Gray the most powerful civil servant you’ve never heard of, not anymore”BBC News
Sue Gray joined the civil service after leaving school in 1975 and her decades of experience gained her a reputation for fairness and impartiality.
But it wasn’t until she was appointed to lead an official inquiry into lockdown rule-breaking in Boris Johnson’s government that she became a household name.
Top civil servant Simon Case was supposed to lead that probe but had to step down when it emerged one of the gatherings had been held in his own office. And when the findings of Sue Gray’s investigation were published in May last year, she found there had been widespread rule-breaking within government and Boris Johnson accepted her findings.
“She’s identified a number of failings, some official, some political, and some that I accept are entirely my own for which I take full responsibility.”Boris Johnson
After a wave of ministerial resignations, some prompted by Partygate and Sue Gray’s report, Boris Johnson was forced to resign as prime minister.
“I want you to know how sad I am to be giving up the best job in the world but them’s the breaks”Boris Johnson
Fast forward eight months, and Sue Gray’s appointment as Keir Starmer’s Chief of Staff has caused an outcry among some Conservative politicians. But is their outrage justified?
At the height of Partygate, as more and more stories came out about alleged rule breaking in government, allies of Boris Johnson used Sue Gray’s ongoing investigation to deflect questions.
“Sue Gray is independent and is preparing the report in her own time without coming under pressure from the government.”Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP
And some of the same people who used her reputation for integrity and professionalism as a shield are now questioning her impartiality as a civil servant.
“In the case of Sue Gray, the disappointment stinks. Her report brought down the first minister of the crown, who had a majority of 80 from the electorate, brought down by a bureaucrat who now turns out to be backing the socialist party.”Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP
Many of these MPs, like Jacob Rees Mogg and former culture secretary Nadine Dorries, are incredibly loyal to Boris Johnson and want him to return to Number 10.
But the former prime minister has another investigation hanging over him that could further undermine his chances of making a comeback.
A cross-party group of MPs called the privileges committee is currently deciding whether Boris Johnson misled parliament over Partygate, and an initial report published over the weekend said it’s possible that he did.
“A committee of MPs investigating whether he has misled parliament has found evidence strongly suggests Covid rule-breaking would have been obvious to Mr Johnson when he was at the parties, that he failed to tell the House what he knew about them… he did not correct misleading statements to the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity, and had personal knowledge of lockdown gatherings in Number 10 Downing Street which he could have told MPs.”ITV News
Boris Johnson attacked the committee and its report by claiming that it relies on evidence from Sue Gray’s inquiry.
But the former prime minister accepted her findings at the time and the privileges committee investigation is based on more than just Sue Gray’s report. It also relies on its own witness accounts and evidence supplied by the government.
News that Sue Gray has been offered a job by the leader of the opposition allows Boris Johnson and his allies to muddy the water, but it’s not evidence that her Partygate report was somehow designed to help the Labour Party.
“Keir has made no secret over the last few months that as we head to the next general election that he was looking to strengthen his team with someone who could bring experience from government and how government works in order that he and the rest of the shadow cabinet and the Labour party could be better prepared for the eventuality of us winning the next election.”Lucy Powell, Shadow Culture Secretary
Sue Gray’s appointment is a clear signal that Keir Starmer is gearing up for the next general election and with opinion polls giving Labour a significant lead over the Conservatives, he could well be the next prime minister.
The Conservative Party will be worried that Sue Gray could use “privileged information” from her time at Downing Street to help him in that election. But senior civil servants like Sue Gray have to formally request permission to take up certain jobs outside government.
The advisory committee on business appointments, ACOBA, will advise on how long Sue Gray has to wait before she can start her new job – and on any other conditions for her employment with the Labour leader.
And because Conservative critics have raised questions about when Keir Starmer started talking to her about becoming his Chief of Staff, she’ll have to set out the timeline of her discussions to ACOBA.
Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell has said Labour will abide by its advice.
In the meantime, Labour will be pleased that this has brought Partygate back to the public’s attention, because it reminds people of the rule breaking that happened in a Conservative government.
It was written and mixed by Imy Harper.