Labour on defensive as party hits out at Sue Gray ‘vendetta’
Ministers are pursuing a “vendetta” against partygate investigator Sue Gray, Labour has claimed, as the row intensified over her appointment as Sir Keir Starmer’s next chief of staff.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves accused the Prime Minister of “political gimmicks” after a Cabinet Office probe into the high-ranking Whitehall official’s departure was launched.
The Government investigation into Ms Gray’s switch to a senior role in the Labour leader’s office has been paused because she refused to co-operate, prompting fury from some Tory MPs.
Ms Reeves insisted the Labour party and Ms Gray were co-operating with the “normal process” for scrutinising new jobs for ex-civil servants run by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).
“The issue here is that there are two inquiries going on,” Ms Reeves told Times Radio. “There is the usual one, the Acoba process, which Sue Gray is co-operating with fully, and then there is the political gimmick one set up by Government ministers to pursue this vendetta they have got against Sue Gray.”
But Security Minister Tom Tugendhat argued that Ms Gray’s appointment, including when she began conversations with the Labour party, “raises questions” and should be fully investigated.
“The person I’m most surprised at, frankly, is Keir Starmer,” he told LBC.
“He’s painted himself as a white knight in all this and he’s not co-operating with the civil service or, rather, he’s not asking the person he nominated to co-operate with the civil service body that’s investigating it. That’s a decision for him, obviously, but it does raise questions.”
In a written statement to the House of Commons yesterday, Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden said the Government would “consider next steps” after Ms Gray “chose not to” speak to the investigation.
It was launched following concerns that she had engaged with the opposition while looking into allegations of parties being held in Downing Street during lockdowns.
The Government has submitted a “confidential assessment” to Acoba, which will “consider evidence from a range of sources to make a recommendation on any appropriate restrictions on the appointment”, Mr Dowden said.
The watchdog can set recommendations for when senior people leave government.
The failure of the Whitehall inquiry’s outcome to materialise came after reported intense negotiations between Cabinet Secretary Simon Case and Government ministers.
Mr Case is said to have blocked the plans amid concerns over publishing a politically-charged report days before the local elections when the Government is meant to observe “purdah” rules on political impartiality.
It came as Ms Reeves was also forced to defend Sir Keir’s U-turn on his commitment to abolish tuition fees.
She blamed the Government’s handling of the economy for the policy shift.
“The Tories have crashed the economy... and that does mean that we need to look again at what we can afford,” Ms Reeves said.
Rishi Sunak thinks it is “obviously disappointing” that Ms Gray chose not to co-operate with the investigation, No 10 said.
The Prime Minister’s press secretary denied Labour’s claim that he is pursuing a “vendetta”.