DEPUTY Prime Minister Oliver Dowden has paused a controversial internal inquiry into the Partygate investigator Sue Gray’s departure from Whitehall.

The Conservative minister said the former senior civil servant had not engaged with the probe and that the government would now need to consider its 'next steps.'

The inquiry was triggered after Labour revealed that Ms Gray was lined up to become Sir Keir Starmer's Chief of Staff.

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The probe was looking at whether or not the ex-official - who led a Government investigation into allegations of parties being held in Downing Street during the coronavirus lockdown - had broken strict rules by having discussions with Labour about the job while still working in the civil service. 

According to the Daily Telegraph, the report would have disclosed that Ms Gray held talks with Labour while she was advising the cross-party of MPs on the Privileges Committee about their own inquiry into whether former prime minister Boris Johnson misled the Commons. 

However, Mr Dowden’s decision to delay the report means it will likely now not be published until after the government’s appointments watchdog decides on Ms Gray’s start date as Sir Keir’s chief of staff.

The Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), is currently reviewing the terms of Ms Gray’s departure. The Civil Service Code stipulates that officials of Ms Gray’s seniority must wait a minimum of three months before taking up outside employment.

But Acoba could recommend that a longer wait is necessary, with a maximum delay of up to two years.

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In a written statement to the House of Commons, Mr Dowden wrote: “On March 6 2023, Minister for the Cabinet Office and HM Paymaster General announced in reply to an Urgent Question that the Cabinet Office had been asked to look into the circumstances leading to the resignation of Sue Gray, the former Permanent Secretary for the Union and the Constitution and committed to update Parliament as appropriate.

“This process has involved interviewing relevant persons to establish further details on the contact between Ms Gray and the Leader of the Opposition.

“I can update the House that Ms Gray was given the opportunity to make representations as part of this process but chose not to do so.”

“I hope the House will understand that, in order to maintain confidentiality towards an individual former employee, I am unable at this stage to provide further information relating to the departure of Ms Gray whilst we consider next steps,” he added. 

Mr Dowden said the Cabinet Office had made submissions ACOBA. 

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Earlier in the day, Sir Keir dismissed claims Ms Gray had broken the rules. The Labour leader said that 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.

“Whenever a senior civil servant leaves the Civil Service there is always a process that they have to go through, that is the process she is going through, quite rightly.

“The Government is trying to resurrect a story about Sue Gray, maybe because they don’t want to talk about the cost-of-living crisis, which actually is the thing that most people are most concerned about.”

Meanwhile, Downing Street said that the Prime Minister had full confidence in Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman faced questions amid reports that Mr Case’s personal views towards Ms Gray were partly behind a push for the former top civil servant to be made to wait a considerable period before taking up a role with Sir Keir Starmer.

The spokesman said: “This is a process that is being carried out by the Cabinet Office, not by one single individual.

“Of course, the Cabinet Secretary is focused on delivering the Prime Minister’s priorities. You heard the Prime Minister speak quite recently about his regard for the Cabinet Secretary.”

The spokesman said: “The Cabinet Secretary is closely involved in all the Prime Minister’s priorities, particularly on small boats, and that work continues even this week.”