Sue Gray’s partygate investigation branded ‘plot’ against Boris Johnson

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The partygate inquiry has been attacked as a “plot” by allies of Boris Johnson after Sue Gray stepped down from the Civil Service to become Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Downing Street confirmed that Ms Gray, who carried out the investigation into lockdown parties, resigned on Thursday afternoon with immediate effect.

The move is hugely controversial because it was Ms Gray’s report which contributed to the resignation of Boris Johnson as prime minister.

A friend of Mr Johnson said: “Keir Starmer appointing Sue Gray as his chief of staff reveals what many have suspected all along: partygate was a deliberate and manufactured plot to oust a Brexit-backing Conservative prime minister.

“The validity of the Sue Gray investigation and its findings is now completely destroyed. This matter is surely a serious breach of civil service impartiality and there can be no doubt the civil service code has been breached.

“What was supposed to be an investigation by independent civil servants is now revealed to have been carried out by someone who ultimately would go on to work for Keir Starmer.

“What communications did Sue Gray have with Labour during this period? It leads to the inevitable conclusion that partygate was a Labour stitch up.”

‘Left-wing stitch-up’

Jacob Rees-Mogg added that it now looked like Mr Johnson had been a victim of a “coup”.

“So much for an impartial civil service… the Gray report now looks like a Left-wing stitch-up against a Tory prime minister,” the former Cabinet minister said. 

“This announcement invalidates Sue Gray’s report. It’s not an independent report, it’s written by a Left-wing activist.”

It is understood that Number 10 will investigate the circumstances of Ms Gray’s resignation to ensure she abided by the Civil Service code.

She will also be expected to abide by any restrictions imposed on her by the Acoba watchdog, which looks at which jobs former politicians and senior officials can take.

‘A serious failure’

Ms Gray had been second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

In December 2021, Mr Johnson ordered an inquiry into reports of gatherings and parties on government premises during times of Covd restrictions.

It was originally meant to be headed by Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, but he had to recuse himself when it emerged an event had taken place in his own office.

The investigation was taken over by Ms Gray, whose initial findings condemned “a serious failure” in the standards of leadership.

The findings also stated that a string of gatherings were “difficult to justify” while millions were unable to meet their friends and relatives.

‘Starmer is delighted’

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: “I can confirm that Sue Gray has resigned from the post of second permanent secretary.

“That was accepted by the permanent secretary. We will not be commenting further on specific personal matters.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party has offered Sue Gray the role of chief of staff to the Leader of the Opposition. 

“We understand she hopes to accept the role subject to the normal procedures. Keir Starmer is delighted she is hoping to join our preparations for government and our mission to build a better Britain.”

LMK Labour said Ms Gray was a hugely experienced and respected civil servant, and that the police looked into the parties and found evidence of lawbreaking, ultimately issuing a fine.

LMK Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representing senior civil servants said it was “unforgiveable” to question Ms Gray’s integrity during the Partygate probe.

In the wake of Ms Gray’s resignation, the permanent secretary of the Cabinet Office reminded civil servants about their duty to be impartial.

In an email, Alex Chisholm said: “You may have seen, or you may see, public speculation relating to the circumstances of Sue’s departure.

“I will take this opportunity to say again that as civil servants we serve the elected government of the day. The impartiality of the civil service, as embedded in our code and values, is important for our ability to continue to do so.”

Downing Street was taken completely by surprise by the move.

One ally of Rishi Sunak called on the Acoba watchdog to look closely at the appointment.

“The Acoba process exists to ensure that people with access to privileged information, cannot simply depart government and go to work for organizations that will benefit from that privileged information,” the ally said.

“The Prime Minister believes passionately in the principle of civil service impartiality and would not countenance anything that would compromise that.”

One government source said Ms Gray had not declared any meetings with Labour, even though she was now set to work for the party.

Another said Mr Johnson had appointed her to run the partygate inquiry because he trusted her.