A Conservative former minister has defended the “integrity” of Sue Gray, the senior official who led the investigation into the Partygate scandal after being appointed to Labor’s staff.
Conservative MPs have expressed outrage at the proposed recruitment of Gray, who has gained national notoriety for her role in investigating lockdown-breaking parties at Downing Street.
It has been jumped on by Boris Johnson and allies amid attempts to discredit the Privileges Committee’s inquiry into whether the former PM lied to the House of Commons about lockdown breaches.
But on Saturday, Gray received support from a former Conservative Cabinet minister, Francis Maude, who said he had never “had the slightest reason to question her integrity or her political impartiality.”
In a letter to the Times, the Conservative colleague said Gray, who served for a time as his key private secretary, was not the first official to step into a political role and will not be the last.
“We should deal with it just as calmly as we do with people who were previously politically involved, who come into public service,” he said.
“Regardless of political backgrounds and inclinations, civil servants must of course comply with the civil service obligation of impartiality during their term of office.
“Our officials should have the brains, knowledge, judgment and strength of character to give sound advice to ministers. Gray has all of these qualities in abundance; Starmer is fortunate to have secured their services.”
In a letter to the same newspaper, Bob Kerslake, the former head of public services, said the allegations of impropriety regarding the proposed move were “missing”.
He wrote: “The role is both organizational and political, and it is no surprise that two former chiefs of staff, Jonathan Powell and Ed Llewellyn, have been retired from the diplomatic service.”
He said Gray was asked by Labor leader Keir Starmer about her “experience and undoubted ability”, adding: “I hope the appointment process moves quickly and she can take on her new role.”
Starmer has so far dodged questions about when talks began with Gray, who is expected to await the decision of the Business Appointments Advisory Committee (Acoba) before taking on the role.
Parliament’s anti-corruption watchdog can recommend waiting periods before officials accept other jobs, and the prime minister ultimately makes the final decision.
On Saturday, Labor leader Anneliese Dodds dismissed a suggestion the move was a “distraction” from the Privileges Committee’s inquiry, as she insisted all necessary procedures were being followed.
“Sue Gray is a person of tremendous integrity. Someone who has actually served in the civil service under ministers from a number of parties, someone who has always served with that integrity,” she told Sky News.
“I am delighted that she is joining the Labor team at this point as we prepare to go into government if the British public backs us in the next general election.
“What remains important to us as Labor is that we see the same rules and approach being applied here as she would see any other appointment. For this reason, the procedures of the public service regarding confidentiality are respected.
“Therefore, the civil service watchdog, Acoba, must attend to this precisely as it would with any other appointment and it is entirely right that these procedures are being followed. They will apply to Sue Gray just like any other senior official.”