Rayner left rattled after Labour’s plot to poach Sue Gray exposed

Angela Rayner defends Labour’s appointment of Sue Gray

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Angela Rayner today furiously defended Labour’s appointment of Sue Gray. The senior civil servant, who received national prominence for her role investigating partygate, is set to become Sir Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

Ms Gray’s planned move to the top Labour job has sparked a backlash from Boris Johnson and his allies who say it raises questions over the credibility of her report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, as well as the Privileges Committee inquiry into whether the ex-prime minister deliberately misled MPs about the saga.

But Ms Rayner accused the Tories of wasting parliamentary time to “indulge in the conspiracy theories of the former prime minister and his gang”.

The deputy Labour leader said: “I’d also like to thank members opposite for asking why a senior civil servant famed for their integrity and dedication to public service decided to join the party with a real plan for Britain rather than a tired-out, washed-up, sleaze-addicted Tory Government.

“This is the exceptional circumstances that the minister spoke about, a party so self-obsessed that they are using parliamentary time to indulge in the conspiracy theories of the former prime minister and his gang.

“What will they ask for next? A Westminster Hall debate on the moon landings, the bill of dredging the Loch Ness or a public inquiry into whether the Earth is flat?”

Ms Rayner’s comments came after Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin suggested Ms Gray may have breached civil service rules with her planned move to Labour.

Mr Quin said: “The House will recognise this is an exceptional situation, it is unprecedented for a serving permanent secretary to resign to seek to take up a senior position working for the leader of the opposition.”

He said there are four rules or guidance for civil servants that are “pertinent”, including informing the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba).

He said: “The rules state that approval must be obtained prior to a job offer being announced. The Cabinet Office has not as yet been informed that the relevant notification to Acoba has been made.”

Other rules relevant to Ms Gray’s plans, he said, include impartiality, declaration of outside interests and that contact with opposition parties should be cleared with ministers.

Mr Quin also accused Labour of being “evasive” with details about the circumstances of Ms Gray’s appointment.

Sir Keir has repeatedly refused to say when he first contacted the senior civil servant about joining his team.

Mr Quin said: “The party opposite talks about rules. They talk about transparency. They talk about standards in public life. Given all the constant talk, it’s time they walked the walk.

“So I ask the right honourable lady to go away and think, why are they refusing to publish where they met with Sue Gray? Why are they being evasive? Why can’t they tell us what they discussed, where they met? How often they met? Their refusal to do so begs the question, exactly what is Labour trying to hide?

“There are now serious questions as to whether Labour, by acting fast and loose, undermined the rules and the impartiality of the civil service.

“Those opposite must ask themselves why did the Leader of the Opposition covertly meet with a senior civil servant, and why were those meetings not declared? They believe the Acoba rules should be tightened, but why weren’t the current ones followed?”

Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg accused Ms Gray of “conniving in secret meetings” with Labour.

He told the Commons: “Does this not smash to pieces the idea of an independent civil service, when we know that one of the most senior civil servants in the country was conniving in secret meetings with the party of opposition?

“And does this not undervalue years of advice and reports that she has given? Her views on devolution, which were known constantly to be soft, her report into (former prime minister Boris Johnson) which we now know was done by a friend of the socialists.

“Does this not undermine all her previous work and the idea of an independent civil service?”

Mr Quin said: “We need to make certain this does not damage the impartiality or the perceptions of impartiality of the civil service as a whole.

“I am deeply worried that the approach made by the Labour Party… may serve to threaten and… put that at risk.”

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