Sue Gray may have broken civil service rules with plans to take up Labour job, minister says

Sue Gray reported on Downing Street parties in Whitehall during the pandemic  (PA Archive)

Sue Gray may have broken strict Government rules by taking up a job in the Labour leader’s office, a minister said on Monday.

The Cabinet Office is investigating the senior civil servant’s resignation and whether she followed proper process for notifying officials over her decision to become Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff.

During an urgent question on the appointment, Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin told the Commons: “The House will recognise that this is an exceptional situation. It is unprecedented for a serving permanent secretary to resign to seek to take up a senior position working for the Leader of the Opposition.

“The Cabinet Office is looking into the circumstances leading up to Sue Gray's resignation in order to update the relevant civil service leadership and ministers of the facts.”

He added that rules state that senior civil servants must seek approval from the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments ( Acoba) prior to a job offer being announced.

“The Cabinet Office has not as yet been informed that the relevant notification to Acoba has been made,” he said.

Ms Gray, who led the Partygate probe into lockdown gatherings in Downing Street, quit her Whitehall job on Thursday afternoon following reports she was in talks to take up a position in Sir Keir’s office.

Former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland said he and other Tory MPs were “surprised and frankly deeply disappointed” by the circumstances of Ms Gray’s resignation.

He stressed his urgent question was “not about the character or quality” of Ms Gray but about trust in the civil service.

But Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner accused Tory MPs of wasting parliamentary time to “indulge in the conspiracy theories of the former Prime Minister and his gang”.

She said: “I’d also like to thank members opposite for asking why a senior civil servant famed for their integrity and dedication to public service decided to join the party with a real plan for Britain rather than a tired out, washed up, sleaze-addicted Government.

“This is the exceptional circumstances that the minister spoke about, a party so self-obsessed that they are using parliamentary time to indulge in the conspiracy theories of the former prime minister and his gang.”

It follows Sir Keir repeatedly refusing to reveal when he first approached Ms Gray to become his chief of staff.

The Labour leader said “absolutely nothing improper occurred” when the senior civil servant behind the Partygate report was asked to head up his office.

But, on Monday, he refused six times to be drawn on when he first talked to her about the job.

During the “Call Keir phone-in” on LBC he said: “That’s going to be laid out by Sue. She’s got to do that as part of a leaving procedure but there’s nothing improper at all.”

It prompted outrage from some Tory MPs, particularly those loyal to Boris Johnson, who argued that the findings of her investigation into lockdown parties in Downing Street were invalid, with some suggesting it showed the partygate report, published last May, was a “Labour stitch-up”.

Sir Keir said he had been looking for a new chief of staff for “a little while” following the dismissal of Sam White, who held the job for a year but was unpopular with some in the shadow cabinet.

The Labour leader added it was “complete nonsense” to suggest she was partial during her Partygate investigation.

“I had no contact at all with during that entire period as you would expect,” he said.

“The whole suggestion is a complete and utter nonsense.”