Sir Keir Starmer under pressure as Sue Gray refuses to answer questions about secret talks with Labour

British civil servant Sue Gray poses for a photo in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on January 19, 2022. Courtesy of GOV.UK/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE.

SIR Keir Starmer’s ‘Mr Rules’ rep took a hammer blow last night after Sue Gray refused to say when she started secret talks with Labour.

The former Cabinet Office enforcer sparked fury yesterday as she stone-walled a Whitehall probe into her dramatic departure from Government earlier.

Sue Gray did not answer questions in a government review into her secret talks with Labour

Sir Keir Starmer has been dragged into a row over his pick for chief of staff

Deputy PM Oliver Dowden accused her of breaking the ministerial code on multiple occasions after conducting covert “political activity” and for failing to declare the talks with senior ministers.

The career mandarin was forced to quit in March after news of her hush-hush chats with Labour were leaked before she had approached the Whitehall appointment watchdog, ACOBA.

The Labour boss last night insisted yesterday that his soon-to-be chief of staff had broken no rules and they were not in talks while she was probing Boris Johnson over partygate.

But insiders revealed she refused to even pick up the phone or answer repeated emails to Cabinet Office staff tasked with investigating her when she jumped ship to join Sir Keir’s top team.

The top civil servant’s emails were even searched for clues – to no avail.

One source said: “The fact that Sue Gray is refusing to cooperate tells you all you need to know about this grubby deal.

“It’s like an experienced lawyer has told her to say ‘no comment’ to every question in a police interview.”

Mr Dowden last night remarked that all civil servants are supposed to uphold key values including integrity, honesty, and impartiality.

He told MPs: “The impartiality and perceived impartiality of the Civil Service is constitutionally vital to the conduct of government. 

“Ministers must be able to speak to their officials from a position of absolute trust, so it is the responsibility of everyone in this House to preserve and support the impartiality of the civil service.”

Sir Keir promised in March that Ms Gray would lay out the timetable of her talks before taking up her new job – but has yet to do so.

Labour insiders admitted last night she had handed over all the gear to the ACOBA watchdog, rather than fill in her old employers on what happened, and when.

A source added: “Sue Gray has fully cooperated with Acoba and awaits the outcome. They are the recognised body to look at these matters, not some made-up political process.” 

Ministers were last night forced to put the investigation on ice until their recommendation on how long she should have to wait before she gets allowed to take up her new job.

The watchdog is poised to recommend a cooling off period of up to two years before she is allowed to join the Labour team.

Last night Tory MPs urged Sir Keir to come clean on what happened and when in a bid to restore trust in his appointment.

Former minister Brendan Clarke Smith raged: “The public has a right to know whether any rules were broken and I would expect anybody involved to fully cooperate with any investigation, especially when it involves such a senior civil servant involved with such an important issue.

“Our civil service prides itself on its independence, its impartiality and its professionalism. Sir Keir claims to be ‘Mr Rules’, so I hope on this occasion he didn’t ‘miss the rules’.”

Tory MP Mark Jenkinson quipped: “‘Mrs Integrity’ taking lessons from ‘Sir Rules’ himself.”

Last night the Labour boss said he “had no discussions with her while she was investigating Boris Johnson whatsoever, I don’t think anyone is suggesting that’s the case”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “I’m confident she hasn’t broken any of the rules.”

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