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The former civil servant Sue Gray has been cleared to take up her new role as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff in the autumn after a vetting board rejected calls for her have a much longer gardening leave.
Gray, who led the investigation into Partygate last year, took ministers by surprise with a plan to quit the civil service and work for Labour. The announcement triggered an inquiry and an expectation that restrictions would be placed on when she could take up the role and what she could do.
However, the Guardian understands that the government’s appointments watchdog will say she should wait for six months, rather than the maximum two years it can recommend for senior officials.
The head of the civil service, Simon Case, as Gray’s former boss in the Cabinet Office, had pushed for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) to delay her starting the new job for the maximum two years.
Acoba was reported by the Times to have raised concerns about the strength of a Cabinet Office report on Gray’s departure and the length of the ban.
A restriction of up to 18 months would have hampered Starmer’s preparations for the general election, which is expected to take place in the autumn of next year.
Gray will now be in place to help on transition arrangements for any possible Labour government, which typically take place between senior Whitehall officials and opposition parties about six months before an election.
Some ministers and Tory MPs are concerned about her sensitive previous role at the Cabinet Office, and there was renewed criticism on Tuesday as the Acoba finding emerged.
“Absolutely shocking, but sadly part of a wider pattern,” tweeted the Tory MP Brendan Clarke-Smith.
“You know it’s chaired by a Conservative peer?” Chris Bryant, the Labour MP and chair of the Commons standards committee, replied to him, referring to the role of the former minister Eric Pickles as Acoba’s chair.
A report last month had suggested that Gray’s first discussions with Starmer were in October last year, long after her inquiry into Boris Johnson and Covid rule-breaking parties was completed, but while the Commons privileges committee was gathering evidence on the same subject.
Starmer initiated the contact, according to Sky News, and Gray had multiple conversations afterwards with him and his team.