Tories Turn On Each Other Over Sue Gray's Job With Labour

Leaked WhatsApp messages reveal MPs' concern about reviving partygate.
Sue Gray and Boris Johnson.
Sue Gray and Boris Johnson.

Some Tory MPs are pushing back on a coordinated attack by their colleagues over partygate investigator Sue Gray’s decision to become Labour leader Keir Starmer’s chief of staff.

In a series of leaked WhatsApp messages obtained by Sky News, backbenchers have raised fears that bringing attention again to lockdown rule-breaking parties will backfire on the party.

It came as Conservative MPs allied to former prime minister Boris Johnson, whose time in Number 10 ended following a series of scandals, raised concerns in the Commons over Gray’s planned new role.

In the messages, Jackie Doyle-Price, a former whip and minister, is reported to have argued that Johnson himself appointed Gray to lead the partygate probe.

“So much for a stitch up,” she said. “He wasn’t brought down by partygate. Or by Whitehall. He lost the confidence of the parliamentary party … This anti Whitehall pile on is simply burning our constitution.”

Doyle-Price added: “Decades of public service where she has inspired respect on all sides don’t deserve to be trashed by a herd of Conservative MPs who just want to fight a partisan battle. I am quite ashamed of what I see.”

Tim Loughton, another former minister, warned: “Impugning her integrity about the way she handled partygate without evidence of what she may have done differently in light of the above only refocusses public attention on partygate and puts us on the defensive to prove something most of us cannot prove at this stage at least.”

But Nadine Dorries, one of Johnson’s closest allies, said Gray had undermined “the foundations of our democracy and how we govern”. She wrote: “Who knew about Rishi’s wife financial affairs/non Dom etc? I don’t know if it was her but my understanding is that very few people did know and she was one of them and she knew it all. A lot may suddenly begin to make sense.”

Johnson – who was fined for lockdown rule-breaking – was forced to announce his resignation as Tory leader and PM in July after cabinet allies turned on him with a series of resignations.

The final straw was questions about his judgment over the Chris Pincher affair, after the then-Tory whip was at the centre of drunken groping allegations.

That came on top of Johnson’s attempts to change the rules to prevent the suspension of then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson after he broke lobbying edicts.

In the Commons, Conservative former cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg, and another Johnson outrider, said: “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 (Mr 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?”

Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: “I care very deeply about this place and we’ve been plunged into a constitutional crisis.”

He added MPs need to be able to talk to senior civil servants “without fear that information is going to used for party political purposes”, noting: “It’s done immense damage to the civil service and I don’t know if it will be able to recover.”

Michael Fabricant, Tory MP for Lichfield, added: “Is it not ironic that Sue Gray was the head of the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team and it is her who has put the civil service under a dark shadow, a shadow that need not have existed?

“And is it also not the case that this therefore was bad judgment by her but also bad judgment by the Leader of the Opposition, who when asked 10 times this morning to give more information as to when discussions began, 10 times he evaded?”


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