Partygate investigator Sue Gray broke civil service rules “as a result of the undeclared contact” between her and the Labour Party, according to a Whitehall investigation.
The former senior civil servant is due to take up the role as opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff after being cleared to start the job in September by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), the anti-corruption watchdog.
But a separate Cabinet Office inquiry found Gray, who refused to give evidence to the probe, broke the civil service code due to contact with Labour ahead of her resignation in March.
Labour branded the investigation “Mickey Mouse nonsense” and said the conclusion is a “political stunt by a Tory government”.
Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said: “This process found that the Civil Service code was prima facie broken as a result of the undeclared contact between Gray and [Starmer].
“The rules and guidance that govern the conduct of civil servants are clear and transparent. It is deeply unfortunate that events have transpired in this way.”
Acoba recommended Gray have a six-month cooling-off period, starting from the day she quit the civil service, before taking up her new role, allowing her to start in two months’ time.
The watchdog ruled it had seen “no evidence” that her decision making or impartiality was “impaired” while serving in Whitehall.
Government figures had lobbied Acoba to impose a 12-month wait after complaints about Gray’s move to join Labour after leading the partygate investigation into Boris Johnson.
But while Acoba chairman Lord Pickles said he “shared” some concerns over the potential risk to the civil service’s integrity due to her job switch, he dismissed calls for a longer delay.
Responding to the Whitehall probe conclusion, a Labour Party spokesman said: “All rules were complied with. The Acoba process makes that clear.
“This statement is a political stunt by a Tory government out of ideas and out of road. We’re looking forward to Sue Gray joining us this September as we continue to show the country that only Labour can build a better Britain.”
‘Prima facie broken’
Downing Street said it was unprecedented for an inquiry to be conducted after someone has left the civil service but played down suggestions it was politically motivated.
Asked if Rishi Sunak believes the investigation was not politically motivated, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The Cabinet Office, given public interest in this and the unprecedented nature of a serving permanent secretary being offered a role with the opposition, the minister committed to updating the House.”
Quizzed on why the civil service code was found to have been “prima facie” broken, meaning at first sight, he said it was because officials conducting the probe “weren’t able to speak directly to Gray” and relied on other information to come to the judgement.
Gray is expected to begin the task of preparing Labour for government ahead of a likely general election next year, with Sir Keir’s outfit well ahead of Sunak’s Tories in opinion polls.
By Patrick Daly, PA Political Correspondent