Civil service chief Sedwill slams Brexiteer 'sniping' at Olly Robbins

Written by Beckie Smith on 16 October 2018 in News
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Sedwill said anonymous sniping was 'unnaceptable' the week after HMRC chief Jon Thompson received death threats

Photo: Louise Haywood-Schiefer

MPs who criticise civil servants anonymously should be “ashamed of themselves”, acting Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has said, in an unprecedented call for an end to “sniping” about senior officials handling Brexit.

Sedwill condemned the attacks on civil servants in a letter to The Times that said anonymous criticism of Olly Robbins, the prime minister's EU adviser, “has to stop”. An article published in the newspaper over the weekend quoted unnamed Conservative MPs calling Robbins “Rasputinesque”, days after HM Revenue and Customs chief Jon Thompson revealed he had received death threats.

Tory MPs, according to the piece, had said Robbins had an “almost Rasputinesque hold over the prime minister and is masterminding an establishment plot to thwart the will of the people who voted for Brexit”. It also described Robbins’ relationship with his colleagues in Whitehall as “fractured”.


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The article acknowledged the “extraordinary dedication and professionalism” Robbins and his team had displayed during the Brexit negotiations, Sedwill said.

“However, the anonymous sources on whose sniping it also draws should be ashamed of themselves, especially in a week when another senior civil servant reported having been threatened because of comments about Brexit implementation. This has to stop," his letter read.

“Civil servants have always trusted that our fellow citizens, whatever their views, know that we are doing our duty to implement the decisions of the governments they elect,” it continued, echoing comments by HMRC perm sec Jon Thompson last week.

A Number 10 source said the letter was authorised by the prime minister, adding: "It's part of the role of the Cabinet secretary to maintain public trust in the integrity and impartiality of the civil service."

Last week, CSW reported that Thompson had said the police were investigating two death threats he received after giving estimated costs of different post-Brexit customs arrangements to the Treasury Select Committee.

“It is absolutely incumbent on us to stick to the fundamental principles of the civil service, which is to give ministers the best advice that we can, and in a democracy minsters make the decisions,” said Thompson, who added that he had had to change his security arrangements as a result of the threats.

MPs and unions have since come to Thompson’s defence, calling for an end to intimidation of public servants. Wes Streeting, an MP on the Treasury committee, said the threats were “an affront to our democracy”.

The FDA trade union's national officer for HMRC Jawad Raza told CSW the abuse was “the inevitable result of constant attempts to undermine civil service impartiality from politicians and certain sections of the media”.

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Beckie Smith
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Beckie Smith is a reporter for CSW who tweets Beckie__Smith.

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