Westminster-watchers returned to one of their top hobbies of May 2022 yesterday, one they probably thought would never be revisited: waiting for the publication of a report involving the civil servant, Sue Gray.

Gray’s report into Partygate detailed a litany of Covid regulation breaches by Boris Johnson and his officials. It was a hefty straw on the camel’s back that led to Johnson’s resignation in July last year.

Yesterday, an interim report was due to be published on whether Gray had held secret talks with Sir Keir Starmer about resigning as a civil servant and becoming his chief of staff, thereby breaching the civil service code.

But instead of Gray getting a taste of her own medicine, we got Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, reading out a one-page statement in the Commons, to the effect that he couldn’t disclose any information at his stage for confidentiality reasons while the Cabinet Office considered “the next steps”.

It was the mother of damp squibs.

So what’s going on?

The Cabinet Office’s report, which has been submitted to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), is believed to be highly critical of Gray.

Yet crucially, the case against her has been described as “flimsy” by sources close to it, and lacking enough evidence to conclude that the code had been breached.

The Guardian reports that the inquiry had been paused following “intense negotiations” between ministers and Simon Case, the country’s top civil servant. Case, who is thought to be furious with Gray, is understood to have got “cold feet” about the publication of a less than cast-iron case ahead of Thursday’s local elections, according to The Times. Case is believed to have already tried to block Gray’s move to Starmer’s team, pushing hard for the government’s appointment watchdog to delay her starting her new job by the two-year maximum.

Gray may have also helped in derailing the investigation by refusing to cooperate with it. In his statement, Dowden also said: “Ms Gray was given the opportunity to make representations as part of this process but chose not to do so.”

Gray is believed to have questioned the inquiry’s standing and the rules by which it was to be conducted, but has instead submitted evidence directly to Acoba, an independent body.  

Not for the first time, it’s Sue Gray, one, government ministers, nil. 

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