Rishi Sunak could block Sue Gray’s controversial appointment by Sir Keir Starmer for longer than is recommended by the sleaze watchdog, Downing Street said amid Conservative demands for her new role to be delayed until after the next election.
The Partygate inquisitor’s proposed move to take up a role of chief of staff to the Labour leader has sparked anger among Tory allies of Boris Johnson, who have suggested it was evidence of a “coup” to oust the former prime minister last year.
One MP told i that allies of Mr Sunak were also encouraging colleagues to question the appointment as a way of criticising Labour.
But the claims of a plot have been dismissed as “ludicrous” by shadow Culture Secretary, Lucy Powell, who said the “impartial” Ms Gray would take up the role in Labour following the “normal procedures” for departing civil servants.
Tories are demanding that Ms Gray’s job move is blocked for the maximum of two years, which would mean she would take up her new role after the next election.
Bur reports suggest the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which vets job moves by ministers and senior civil servants, will recommend a shorter stint of gardening leave despite concerns that she could hand sensitive privileged information to Labour.
A senior Government source said Mr Sunak cannot “unilaterally block” Ms Gray taking up another job but said he can act once Acoba rules on the job move.
“Acoba has to look into it and provide advice to him upon which he then can act,” they added.
Mr Sunak cannot block the appointment entirely, but could ultimately rule for a longer waiting period than recommended by Acoba, the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said on Friday.
“He will receive advice and recommendations but he’s the ultimate decision maker on it, yes.”
Asked if Mr Sunak would accept Acoba’s recommendation, the spokesman said: “I obviously can’t jump ahead of that process, but you’re aware of what that process is… the Prime Minister will take advice and make a determination based on that recommendation by Acoba.”
Ms Gray is expected to await the decision of Acoba before starting the role.
It came as Ms Powell said Ms Gray would “absolutely not” bring privileged information from Whitehall to Sir Keir’s office, adding on Times Radio: “And, of course, there’s no suggestion whatsoever that Sue would reveal any of that information.”
There is no reason to be concerned that Sue Gray would use privileged information she gained during her previous work to benefit the Labour Party, the leader of a union which represents senior civil servants has said.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, told Sky News: “The idea that Sue Gray would somehow be taking this job to divulge the secrets of the Conservative Party or of government is obviously just nonsense, and most ministers understand and know that.”
He said Ms Gray is “bound by the restrictions of all civil servants” from her previous job.
He added: “She no longer works for the Civil Service. Those restrictions continue to apply whoever she works for, whether it is the Labour Party or whether it is someone else.”