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Partygate inquiry chair Harriet Harman was in personal contact with Sue Gray in early stages of parliamentary probe | Politics News

Harriet Harman, the chair of parliament’s partygate inquiry, was in personal contact with Sir Keir Starmer’s incoming chief of staff Sue Gray while she was still a civil servant.

In the early stages of the parliamentary probe, the veteran Labour MP privately said of her fact-finding efforts: “I just speak to Sue.”

Sky News understands the contact was direct and not via parliamentary or civil service officials.

At the time, Ms Gray had concluded her own report into lockdown-breaking parties in government and was running the constitution unit at the Cabinet Office.

Harriet Harman
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Labour MP Harriet Harman is the chair of parliament’s partygate inquiry

In March this year, Sky News broke the news that Ms Gray was in secret talks with Labour about becoming Sir Keir’s chief of staff.

Within hours she had quit the civil service in order to take up the role.

She is now awaiting a ruling from ACOBA (the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments) on how long she must wait before taking up the position.

Last week, we revealed these conversations between Labour and Ms Gray began in October 2022.

There is no suggestion Ms Harman was aware of Labour’s plans to recruit Ms Gray at the time of her conversations, or that the contact continued after Ms Gray was first approached by aides to Sir Keir.

A privileges committee spokesperson said: “It was the duty of the chair to make contact with anyone, including Sue Gray, who might be able to indicate potential witnesses. The only evidence the committee will rely on it is that which is separately and independently verified by the relevant witness. The privileges committee is not relying on evidence gathered by Sue Gray.

“The chair with the full knowledge of the committee has had regular contact with a number of ministers and officials in the Cabinet Office to discuss matters such as the provision of documents to the committee, the identity of potential witnesses and the welfare of civil servants who may be affected by the inquiry.”

Speaking to Sky News, Jacob Rees-Mogg, MP for North East Somerset, said “the question has to be asked” over whether Ms Harman was accurate and straight forward during her role as chairman.

“What is really important [is that] Sue Gray may have been, through secret back channels, an important part of the chairman’s role within the inquiry,” he said.

“As this is all about strict accuracy and whether things are misleading or not misleading, the chairman has a duty to the committee to be very straight forward. And the question has to be asked, did she achieve this?”

Ms Harman and Ms Gray have not responded to requests for comment.

British men held by Taliban ‘in contact’ with relatives, family spokesman says | World News

British men being held by the Taliban in Afghanistan have been in contact with their relatives, a family spokesman has said.

Charity medic Kevin Cornwell, 53, and an unnamed UK national who manages a hotel in Kabul are believed to have been detained by secret police since January.

A third Briton – so-called “danger tourist” Miles Routledge, 23 – is also being held in Taliban custody after he returned to the country this year.

Scott Richards from the Presidium Network non-profit organisation, which is assisting Mr Cornwell and the unnamed Briton, told Sky News: “We’re very pleased to announce that there has been contact between families and the detainees.

“They were able to spend about 10 minutes this morning in an unscripted conversation, which is very important. This is a landmark move and for any negotiation with the Taliban, because we haven’t seen any of this privilege before.

“They’ve certainly taking this as a goodwill gesture and an incredibly important step.”

Mr Cornwell was arrested at his hotel by officers from the Taliban’s General Directorate of Intelligence on 11 January.

He is accused of having an illegal firearm in the safe in his room, but his family say he had been granted a licence for the firearm.

Mr Richards said this was down to a “misunderstanding” and the licence may have become separated from the firearm during the search.

Mr Routledge, 23, has gained fame – and attracted controversy – by travelling to dangerous countries and posting about it online.

In August 2021, he was on a “holiday” in Afghanistan when he was caught up in the chaos in the capital as the Taliban took control of the country.

He chose the war-torn country having looked up a list of the most dangerous places to visit in the world, despite the Taliban taking control of more and more of the country at the time.

Mr Routledge thanked the British Army after he was among those to leave during the Kabul airlift.

He appears to have returned to the country since then.