UK Labour leader Starmer picks 'Partygate' investigator Sue Gray as chief of staff

Leader of the Labour Party Keir Starmer speaks at an event in London

LONDON (Reuters) -Keir Starmer, the leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party, has picked as his new chief of staff Sue Gray, a government official whose investigation helped catalyse the exit of Boris Johnson as prime minister, the party said on Thursday.

Gray, a senior civil servant with decades of government experience, came into the national spotlight last year for her damning investigation into the "partygate" scandal, a series of law-breaking parties at Johnson's No. 10 Downing Street office during COVID lockdowns.

The Sue Gray report, as her findings came to be known, caused public outrage, provided fuel for Starmer to attack Johnson during parliamentary appearances and was among the factors that led to his resignation as prime minister last July.

A Labour spokesperson said the party had offered Gray the role. "We understand (Gray) hopes to accept the role subject to the normal procedures. Keir Starmer is delighted she is hoping to join our preparations for government and our mission," the spokesperson said.

A spokesman for current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Gray had resigned from her position in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities but did not comment on any new role.

The switch from a politically-neutral role in the civil service would come at a time when Labour holds a strong lead over the ruling Conservatives in opinion polls and as Starmer sets out his vision and policy priorities for Britain ahead of a national election next year.

"So much for an impartial Civil Service, the Gray report now looks like a left-wing stitch up against a Tory (Conservative) Prime Minister," Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg said.

Gray worked as the ethics chief at the cabinet office from 2012-2018 and, according to a profile by the Times newspaper last year, has a reputation of being the "ultimate fixer" across government departments.

The BBC said she took a career break in the 1980s to run a pub in Northern Ireland and in a 2015 article described her as "the most powerful person you've never heard of."

(Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Sachin Ravikumar and Andrew MacAskill; editing by William James, Kirsten Donovan)