Politics

‘I think Sue Gray was impartial in partygate inquiry’, minister says

A cabinet minister said she has “no reason to believe” Sue Gray was not impartial when she investigated partygate ahead of the ex-civil servant becoming Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Sky News revealed on Friday the Labour leader has appointed Ms Gray and she has left her role in the civil service.

The news has prompted outrage from some Tory MPs, especially those loyal to Boris Johnson, who said the findings of her investigation into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street are now invalid and it was a “Labour stitch-up”.

They fear she could use “privileged information”, such as that on ministers’ private lives, to benefit Labour.

Some blame Ms Gray for Mr Johnson’s eventual downfall after she found there was a “failure of leadership and judgment” in Number 10 during his premiership.

But Michelle Donelan, the science, innovation and technology secretary, told Sky News’ Kay Burley this morning: “She was a leading civil servant who obviously swore and accepted the civil service code in which one of those key requirements is impartiality.

“I think she was impartial, I have no reason to believe she wasn’t.”

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Ms Donalan said the circumstances under which Ms Gray has taken on her new job should be examined.

“I think what people are mainly concerned about here is what process has taken place for her to acquire this new job,” she added.

“Have talks taken place when potentially they shouldn’t have, etc. These are the questions that need to be looked at and answered and ACOBA need to be allowed to do that job and review this.”

Read more: Who is Sue Gray?

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0:26

Ministers trying to ‘trash’ Sue Gray integrity

Sir Keir has defended his decision to appoint Ms Gray, saying if his party wins the next election they “won’t be forgiven if we’re not prepared for government”.

Today, Ms Gray will formally request permission to become Sir Keir’s chief of staff from ACOBA, the body that provides advice on applications from senior civil servants taking up other appointments after leaving.

She will have to set out the timeline of her discussions with Labour, including when she first began talking to the Labour leader about the role.

Labour frontbencher Wes Streeting said he understands “there’s some sour grapes” over Ms Gray’s appointment but urged Tory critics to “calm down”.

The shadow health secretary told Sky News: “She was asked by Boris Johnson to do an inquiry. He lauded her integrity when he asked her to do it, as have, by the way, many decent Conservatives in recent days, who’ve said ‘Hang on a minute, Conservative colleagues, calm down. This is not unusual’.

“And she is a professional civil servant who’s worked well with Labour and Conservative ministers. She has not breached confidences, there’s no reason to expect she will do so now.

“I can understand why there’s some sour grapes that good people are now wanting to work with Labour because they are hoping and thinking we might be the next government.”

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0:34

Starmer defends Sue Gray appointment

Sky News understands Ms Gray is already facing an informal probe by the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team, a unit she oversaw when she was director-general between 2012 and 2018.

They are looking into whether she breached the civil service code by failing to disclose details of discussions with Labour at the earliest opportunity.

Officials have said Ms Gray should have notified ACOBA about taking up the role before she resigned, rather than afterwards.

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