Politics latest updates: Starmer accuses Tories of trying to 'resurrect' Sue Gray story - as update on partygate inquisitor's switch to Labour due (2023)

Key points
  • Cleverly: Starmer 'has questions to answer' if Sue Gray reports true
  • Update expected on former civil servant's Labour switch today
  • Labour to 'move on' from pledge to drop tuition fees - Starmer
  • Evacuation from Sudan ends with more than 2,000 people airlifted
  • Teachers in England are on strike - here's what you need to know
  • Live reporting by Faith Ridler


Starmer 'confident' Sue Gray broke no rules

We've been hearing from Sir Keir Starmer this morning, who has been discussing an "update" expected from the Cabinet Office on Labour's appointment of Sue Gray.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly told Sky News today that Sir Keir could have "serious questions to answer" if allegations about the timing of talks are true.

The Labour leader said he was "confident" Ms Gray had not broken any rules.

"Firstly I 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 the BBC.

Sir Keir went on: "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."

He also suggested that the government is "trying to resurrect a story about Sue Gray" days before the local elections on 4 May.

Sir Keir added: "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."


Labour will likely 'move on' from pledge to drop tuition fees - Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has today admitted Labour will likely have to "move on" from a pledge to abolish tuition fees - but commits to "set out a fairer solution".

The Labour leader told the BBC his party is "looking at options for how we fund these fees", adding "the current system is unfair."

"It doesn't really work for students, doesn't work for universities," he said.

Labour has promised to abolish tuition fees in its last two general election manifestos - and Sir Keir's leadership campaign in 2020 had pledged to retain that policy.

However, he said today that the party is "likely to move on from that commitment".

"We do find ourselves in a different financial situation."

He added that he did not "want that to be read as us accepting for a moment that the current system is fair or that it is working".


Lib Dems 'suspect there will be nothing to see' in Sue Gray update

Here's the view from the Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey on allegations about the circumstances of Sue Gray's switch to Labour.

An "update" is expected from the Cabinet Office today "into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant".

Sir Ed told Sky News that he suspects there will be "nothing to see".

He added: "In all my dealings with Sue Gray, I found her a civil servant of the highest integrity and professionalism."


Speculation over Sue Gray 'not helpful' - Labour

Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow business secretary, today said he doesn't think Sir Keir Starmer will have any questions to answer over the appointment of Sue Gray.

His comments come as an "update into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant" will be published by the Cabinet Office today.

It has been reported that the government will likely conclude that Ms Gray broke the Civil Service Code by accepting a job as Labour's chief of staff.

It is possible her appointment could be delayed for up to two years.

Mr Reynolds said: "The simple truth is there's a process here, it will all be in the public domain eventually.

"Any interest there is in this because of the shocking Downing Street parties that led to the downfall of Boris Johnson - all of that will be in the public domain.

"There is a process, this committee looks at this, it comes up with a recommendation. I see no reason to interrupt that process or to comment on it.

"I think this will also follow that normal course of action."

He added that speculation over the matter is "not helpful".


Sue Gray facing 'political witch-hunt' - reports

The Cabinet Office is set to publish an "update into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant" later today - which is understood to be about Sue Gray's shift to Labour.

Reports overnight claim the former senior civil servant held talks with Labour while she was still part of the propriety and ethics team, which advised the committee of MPs looking into COVID gatherings inside Number 10.

Her allies have described the matter as a "political witch-hunt", the Guardian reports today.

The newspaper suggested the government is set to conclude that the former civil servant broke the Civil Service Code in a bid to delay her appointment as Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff.

But what could be the implications of the Cabinet Office report?

The report coming out from government today will inform a decision made by the appointments watchdog ACOBA, which will collate its own evidence and then make a suggestion for the amount of time Ms Gray should take as gardening leave before joining the leader of the opposition's team.

Ms Gray came to the fore when she led the Cabinet Office inquiry to establish what happened in Downing Street during the pandemic, with her putting together what became known as the Sue Gray report.

She was previously the director general of the propriety and ethics team between 2012 and 2018, and was then second permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office between 2021 and 2023, having worked with the Northern Ireland office team in the interim.


Update expected on Sue Gray Labour switch

Following on from our conversation with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in the last few minutes - here's a bit more about an anticipated update on the Sue Gray situation.

The Cabinet Office will later publish an "update into the circumstances leading to the resignation of a senior civil servant".

This likely refers to partygate investigator Ms Gray's departure from the Civil Service to join the Labour Party as Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff.

It is widely understood that the written statement will shed light on how Ms Gray made the shift, and when she began talks with Labour about the role.

Reports have claimed that the former civil servant - who published a report into Downing Street lockdown parties - may have breached the Civil Service Code when she made the switch.

The Telegraph has alleged that the update will suggest Ms Gray held talks with Sir Keir 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 with his assurances that COVID rules were followed.

Labour denied that any approach was made while Ms Gray worked in the Cabinet Office's ethics unit that was corresponding with the committee over its investigation into Mr Johnson.

A source told Sky News: "The propriety and ethics team handled requests from the Privileges Committee, reporting to minister for Cabinet Office, Jeremy Quin.

"Sue Gray was not working in that team."


Cleverly: Starmer 'has serious questions to answer' if reports about Sue Gray are true

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly this morning said Sir Keir Starmer will have "serious questions to answer" if talks with Sue Gray began while she was advising MPs investigating whether Boris Johnson misled parliament.

Asked about the reports, he told Sky News: "If that is what the report says, I do think Keir Starmer has got some serious questions to answer."

However, he admitted he has yet to see the findings of a probe.

The conversation then turned to the situation in Sudan, and whether the UK will open safe and legal routes for migrants from the war-torn country.

"We've passed the Commons stages of the Illegal Migration Bill, we did that last week. As you know, there are elements within that bill for the creation of safe and legal routes," he said.

However, Mr Cleverly reiterated that the decision of "how and when" these routes are created will be made by the Home Office.

"Sadly, Sudan is not the only conflict around the world at the moment, so we have to look at things in the round," he said.

"We will always discharge our duty to be a generous nation."

Mr Cleverly then denied being a NIMBY - which stands for "not in my backyard" - over plans to establish a large-scale detention facility in his constituency.

The Braintree MP's local council failed to secure a High Court injunction blocking the government's plans to use the redundant RAF Wethersfield airfield in Essex to house asylum seekers.

Mr Cleverly said: "Of course, no-one would want a facility like that in their constituency... but the point I'm saying is that the legislation we are putting through is to reduce the need for facilities like that."

The foreign secretary turned to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, describing him as "very thoughtful, very very professional and a very good public servant".

He said Mr Case will stay in post as long as he has the confidence of Rishi Sunak.


A reminder of what we have coming up

Over the next few hours, Sky News will welcome a host of political guests to discuss the news in Westminster - as the local elections draw nearer.

As a reminder, here's who we will hear from this morning:

  • Foreign Secretary James Cleverly - 7.20am;
  • Labour's shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds - 8.05am;
  • Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey - 8.20am.

You can watch in the link above, or we'll bring you all the latest.


Lib Dems calls for probe into potential 'profiteering' as supermarket prices soar

An inquiry should be commissioned into whether supermarkets have been "profiteering" during the cost of living crisis, the Liberal Democrats have said.

Sir Ed Davey is calling for the competition watchdog to start an investigation into whether food retailers put up the price of goods by more than was necessary to cover the cost of rocketing inflation.

It comes as food prices soared by 15.7% in April - the highest on record - according to the latest BRC-NielsenIQ shop price index.

The Lib Dems highlighted Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, which was based on the CPI (Consumer Prices Index) measure of inflation, that suggested UK food inflation currently stands at 19.6%.

Analysis by the party suggests a typical weekly family food shop has increased by £12 as a result, leading to a higher annual bill of more than £600 for the average household.

With prices going up, the Lib Dems said the big supermarket chains had made billions of pounds in profits over the past year.

Tesco and Sainsbury's saw their combined profits rise to £1.5bn in 2022, a rise of more than 50% on last year, according to the Lib Dems.


Teachers in England are on strike today - here's what you need to know

Another week of strikes is under way after members of the Royal College of Nursing and Unite unions walked out on Monday.

Some members of Unite will continue to fight for an NHS pay deal today, but elsewhere, the industrial action will slightly shift gears.

Teachers in England who are members of the National Education Union (NEU) will walk out, with some 22,000 schools expected to be affected.

This strike is the fifth undertaken by educators this year - as a fierce dispute continues over pay in the face of the cost of living crisis.

In February, the government offered a £1,000 one-off payment and a 4.5% pay rise for most staff from September.

The Department for Education claimed this was a "fair and reasonable offer", but the NEU hit back, dubbing it "insulting". It was rejected by all four unions involved.

The disruption will likely cause a number of schools to close to all pupils, while some will be partially closed and able to cater to some high-priority children.

However, there may be little to no impact for other classrooms.

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