Cabinet Office pauses inquiry into Sue Gray Labour talks

Department considering "next steps" while it awaits Acoba's decision on appointment as Starmer's chief of staff
Sue Gray arriving at the Cabinet Office in January. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

By Tom Scotson

03 May 2023

The Cabinet Office has put an inquiry into circumstances surrounding veteran civil servant Sue Gray's departure on hold pending an update from the government’s appointments watchdog.

In a written statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden also noted that Gray had chosen not to engage with the inquiry into whether she had discussed the possibility of becoming Labour's chief of staff with party leader Keir Starmer while working as second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office.

“In order to maintain confidentiality towards an individual former employee, I am unable at this stage to provide further information relating to the departure of Ms Gray whilst we consider next steps,” he said.

FDA union leader Dave Penman suggested yesterday that Gray had decided not to comment publicly on the inquiry because she was focusing on the standard Advisory Committee on Business Appointments process that upholds rules on post-government jobs.

“She resigned as a civil servant; it doesn’t surprise me that she wouldn’t take part in a process when she is going through Acoba," Penman told Times Radio.

"Sue has got a right not to take part in an investigation that is being conducted under rather less clear processes. She can speak for herself or not," he said.

In March, it was reported that Gray had applied to Acoba to become Starmer's chief of staff. Her new role comes after a long career in the civil service, including a four-year stint as "propriety and ethics" lead at the cabinet office. 

News of her appointment prompted fury among some Conservative MPs, who believe her decision to take up the new job with Labour cast doubts on political impartiality in relation to her investigation into the Partygate allegations of rule-breaking gatherings in Downing Street and Whitehall during the Covid lockdown.

The longstanding civil servant was appointed by Boris Johnson to investigate whether illegal parties were held in Downing Street. Although the former prime minister claimed he was vindicated, her report delivered a scathing assessment after it claimed those in No.10 had shown a "failure of leadership and judgement".

In yesterday's statement, Dowden noted that it was up to Acoba to decide whether there should be any restrictions on the appointment.

He said the Cabinet Office's investigation involved interviews with "relevant persons" to establish details of the contact between Gray and Starmer. He confirmed Gray was asked if she wanted to engage but chose not to.

Tom Scotson is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared

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