Sir Keir Starmer could have “serious questions to answer” if he was talking to Sue Gray while she was advising the MPs investigating partygate, a senior minister has told Sky News.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly was speaking as the cabinet office is set to publish an “update into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant” later today – which is understood to be about Ms Gray’s shift to Labour.
Reports overnight claim the former senior civil servant held talks with Labour while she was still part of the propriety and ethics team, which advised the committee of MPs looking into COVID gatherings inside Number 10.
Mr Cleverly said: “I haven’t seen the report, it’s a completely independent report, it’s the body that looks at senior appointment.
“If that is what the report says, I do think Keir Starmer has got some serious questions to answer.”
Labour has disputed the account, however, with one source telling Sky News: “The propriety and ethics team handled requests from the privileges committee, reporting to minister for cabinet office, Jeremy Quin.
“Sue Gray was not working in that team.”
Sky News revealed earlier this year that Sir Keir was considering appointing Ms Gray as his chief of staff.
The report coming out from government today will inform a decision made by the appointments watchdog ACOBA, which will collate its own evidence and then make a suggestion for the amount of time Ms Gray should take as gardening leave before joining the leader of the opposition’s team.
Ms Gray came to the fore when she led the Cabinet Office inquiry to establish what happened in Downing Street during the pandemic, putting together what became known as the “Sue Gray report”.
She was previously the director general of the government’s propriety and ethics team between 2012 and 2018, and was then second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office between 2021 and 2023, having worked with the Northern Ireland office team in the interim.
Her independence and neutrality was touted by the government and Conservative MPs during the preparation and publication of her report into partygate, which found “failures of leadership and judgment” across both Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.
During her investigations, evidence was handed to the Metropolitan Police, leading to Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson getting fined.
Last summer, the privileges committee opened an inquiry into the conduct of Mr Johnson in Downing Street during the pandemic, and it is the overlap between any contact Ms Gray had with this probe and her communications with Labour that Conservatives want to know more about.
In a blockbuster evidence session in March, Mr Johnson repeatedly questioned the fact that Sue Gray had recently announced her move to Labour and questioned the veracity of her evidence.
Labour’s Harriet Harman, who is chairing the inquiry, said the committee is not relying on any material from Ms Gray’s report “and nor will we”, adding she is not a witness in their inquiry.
And Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, told Sky News that there is a “process” to follow, and that civil servants have left to work with political parties before.