'Left wing stitch up': Tory MPs up in arms after Sue Gray quits Whitehall to join Labour

Sue Gray, whose report into Downing Street lockdown parties contributed to the downfall of Boris Johnson, has swapped Whitehall for Westminster to work for Labour. Harry Horton reports.

Tory MPs are up in arms about Sue Gray - the civil servant who investigated Boris Johnson's government for coronavirus breaches - quitting to join Labour as its chief of staff.

Ms Gray resigned from her role as second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office with immediate effect on Thursday afternoon with hopes of joining Sir Keir Starmer as he prepares for next year's general election campaign.

Labour said Sir Keir is “delighted” that Ms Gray intends to take up the role but accepted the appointment is subject to the "normal procedures".

Permanent secretaries are subject to a waiting period of up to two years where their appointment to new roles outside of government could be blocked by the prime minister over a conflict of interest. It is not yet clear whether Rishi Sunak intends to do that.

The civil servant, who has served in government for decades, became a household name after she was asked go carry out the partygate inquiry into Covid rule-breaking on Downing Street.

Her 60-page document revealed highly-damaging details of the Partygate saga and attacked the Number 10 over a "failure of leadership".

Several former ministers railed against the appointment when reports of it were made public, with many questioning the integrity of her Partygate report.

Former Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said her report "now looks like a left wing stitch up against a Tory prime minister".

Nadine Dorries, a staunch supporter of Mr Johnson who also served in his Cabinet, also said it was a "stitch up".

Another former minister Brendan Clarke-Smith said he was "genuinely shocked" by the news, while Tory MP Craig Mackinlay asked "does this smell right?"

Evidence from her report was passed to the Metropolitan Police for their investigation, which eventually led to 126 fines being dished out to 83 individuals.

The report contained several photographs, including images of Mr Johnson and Rishi Sunak and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case at the PM's birthday celebration.

Mr Johnson, his wife Carrie and eventual prime minister Rishi Sunak were fined for attending that event, however Mr Case was not.

Former prime minister Mr Johnson said on Thursday he did not understand the rationale for fining him over that gathering.

Another former Cabinet minister, Andrea Leadsom, also questioned the appointment.

"Surely not? she wrote on Twitter, "how can the ex head of propriety and ethics jump into a political role, in opposition to the government she just served? With no break? Seriously?"

Number 10 confirmed she resigned from government with immediate effect on Thursday afternoon.

Labour has hired a "formidable" operator, according to MP Richard Holden, who made described her as "not a pushover" when she was appointed to investigate the government.

She was also once described by BBC Newsnight’s then policy editor as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of”.

Labour MP Paul Flynn said the civil servant was “deputy God” in a meeting of Parliament’s Public Administration Committee in 2012 when she oversaw the Plebgate inquiry.

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She was previously director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018.

She oversaw the Plebgate inquiry in 2012 after former chief whip Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling a policeman a “pleb” at the Downing Street gates.

Former Tory MP and Cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin is reported to have said of Ms Gray: “It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain.

"Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office. Unless she agrees, things just don’t happen.”