Starmer accuses government of resurrecting ‘a story about Sue Gray’
The Government has implied former senior civil servant Sue Gray broke the civil service code when holding meetings with Labour over a new job with Sir Keir Starmer. In a Commons statement, Cabinet Office Secretary Oliver Dowden provided new details of the circumstances behind Sue Gray’s departure earlier this year.
The statement reveals that Sue Gray refused to make representations as part of the Government investigation.
It raises the suggestion that Ms Gray, who reportedly threw the book at civil servants who broke the code, may have failed to comply with it herself.
The publication cites the code, which says “contacts between senior civil servants and leading members of the Opposition parties… should… be cleared with… Ministers.”
The report reveals that Sue Gray held secret talks with the Labour Leader while working for the team advising the House of Commons’ Partygate investigation.
At the time she entered into the job negotiations with the opposition, she was still working in the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics Team, which was advising the MP privileges committee investigating Boris Johnson.
Today’s written ministerial statement will heap more pressure on Sir Keir Starmer to scrap Ms Gray’s appointment as his Chief of Staff
However the Labour leader failing to back down could result in Ms Gray being banned from taking up the appointment until after the next General Election.
The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments is currently adjudicating on Ms Gray’s leap from the Civil Service to party politics and will propose how long she must wait before taking the job.
Insiders expect the body to advise a long “cooling off” period, which could last up to two years before she would be allowed to join Sir Keir’s office, leaving him without a Chief of Staff until after the 2024 General Election.
The purpose of the “cooling off” period to is minimise potential – or perceived conflicts of interest. It’s often used to prevent those in government using internal knowledge to their advantage in a new job.
Mr Dowden’s statement said “The impartiality and perceived impartiality of the Civil Service is constitutionally vital to the conduct of government”.
“Ministers must be able to speak to their officials from a position of absolute trust, so it is the responsibility of everyone in this House to preserve and support the impartiality of the civil service.”
This morning Sir Keir desperately tried to deflect questions about the Sue Gray row, claiming the Government deliberately timed today’s Cabinet Office statement in an attempt to divert attention away from the cost of living crisis ahead of the local elections this week
Speaking on BBC Breakfast today, Sir Keir said: “I had no discussions with her while she was investigating Boris Johnson, whatsoever.
“Actually today there is nothing much new about this and I’m afraid with 48 hours to the election, what’s going on is the government is trying to resurrect a story about Sue Gray, mainly because they don’t want to talk about the cost of living crisis, which most people want to talk about.”
Sir Keir added: “I’m confident that she hasn’t broken any of the rules”.
“Whenever a senior civil servant leaves the civil service there is always a process they have to go through before they take up another job.”
Mr Dowden’s statement promised a further update on the appointment “in due course” as the Government now “consider next steps”.
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