Boris Johnson’s allies are “ludicrous” to claim partygate inquisitor Sue Gray’s move to Sir Keir Starmer’s office proves a plot to oust the former prime minister, Labour has said.
Shadow culture secretary Lucy Powell defended the departing senior civil servant as “impartial” and insisted she would not bring privileged official material with her.
Ms Gray will take up the role of chief of staff in the Labour leader’s office after following the “normal procedures”, which could include a recommended waiting period ultimately decided by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Jacob Rees-Mogg suggested Ms Gray was being offered a “plum job” for “effectively destroying a prime minister and creating a coup”.
But Ms Powell told Times Radio “that’s just a ludicrous claim by Boris Johnson”, and said it “stands in stark contrast” to his own defence of Ms Gray’s impartiality during her investigation.
The Labour frontbencher argued the appointment was being used by Mr Johnson in an attempt to “vindicate himself further” after he was ousted over a series of scandals.
Tory backbenchers were continuing to seize on Ms Gray’s appointment, with Alexander Stafford, a former parliamentary aide to Mr Johnson, describing it as “dodgy”.
“This really doesn’t pass the sniff test, it really undermines the work that she’s done, undermines the civil service and really puts in question Sir Keir’s complete judgment,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
The MP claimed it discredits the partygate scandal but sidestepped questions on whether Ms Gray herself had anything to do with lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street.
Presenter Nick Robinson cut him off air early after growing impatient with Mr Stafford’s refusal to answer.
Ms Gray is expected to await the decision of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) before starting the role.
But Downing Street made clear that Mr Sunak cannot block her from taking a job.
Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union representing senior civil servants, said it was “extraordinary” that Tory MPs were now trying to “smear” Ms Gray.
“She had a fearsome reputation for her integrity. She has done some of the most difficult jobs in Government,” Mr Penman told Sky News.
“I think it is really disappointing to see ministers now trying to trash that simply because she has decided to take a very different job later on in her career.”
One well-placed friend of Mr Johnson claimed the validity and findings of Ms Gray’s partygate report had been “completely destroyed”.
“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 ally said.
Mr Johnson received one of the 126 fines issued by the Metropolitan Police while investigating parties in Downing Street and Whitehall that breached lockdown laws.
Ms Gray got the job as partygate enforcer after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had to step down from the investigation when he became embroiled in claims of partying during the pandemic.
Published in May last year, her investigation detailed how officials drank so much they were sick, sang karaoke, became involved in altercations and abused security and cleaning staff.
She criticised “failures of leadership and judgment” in No 10 and said “the senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility”.
The Cabinet Office was “reviewing the circumstances” under which Ms Gray resigned on Thursday.