Row over civil service neutrality ahead of EU referendum
Philip Hammond says campaigning to stay in a reformed Europe is "clear" government position
The civil service will not be expected to abide by "purdah" limitations in the run-up to the referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, the foreign secretary has suggested, as Conservative backbenchers warned against the potential politicisation of officials.
In the build-up to both the referendum on Scottish independence last year and the 2011 vote on whether to switch to the alternative vote system, Whitehall was bound by rules curbing any government activity which would be seen to favour a particular outcome.
However, Conservative eurosceptics lashed out this weekend after it emerged that ministers had decided extra neutrality measures would not apply ahead of the EU referendum, due to take place before 2017.
What does the 2015 Conservative manifesto mean for the civil service?
Peter Riddell: what the civil service can expect from the new government
Alistair Carmichael to blame for Nicola Sturgeon memo leak – but Scotland Office official in the clear
Automated border systems enable staff to focus on other responsibilities, says SITA
Former environment secretary Owen Paterson accused the government of planning to "abolish" purdah, writing in the Mail on Sunday that the move would see "government White Papers warning of the calamitous effect a ‘No’ vote would have on the economy and how it would imperil the country".
He added: "The British state, in cahoots with the Brussels machine, will be able to fix the vote in its favour. This is unacceptable. There are absolutely no grounds to get rid of purdah, especially for a referendum of such fundamental importance."
Responding to the criticism, foreign secretary Philip Hammond told the BBC that seeking a reformed EU through David Cameron's renegotiation of membership terms was a fixed policy of the UK government.
“The government machine will continue running, Europe will continue running and we will have to engage with it," he said.
"But the government is clear. It doesn’t want to be neutral on this. We hope to be able to achieve a package that we can recommend to the British people. This is a core manifesto commitment and ministers will want to speak out on the referendum."
That view was later echoed by Cameron, with the prime minister telling reporters at the G7 summit: "The government isn't neutral in this. We have a clear view: renegotiate, get a deal that's in Britain's interest and then recommend Britain stays in it."
Government guidance to civil servants issued before last year's vote on Scottish independence similarly stipulated that ministers had a "clear policy position" on maintaining the United Kingdom.
But under a deal agreed with the Scottish government, an extra 28-day restricted period was imposed, barring both the Scottish and UK government from publishing information or embarking on ministerial visits that might have "a bearing on the referendum campaign".
In spite of the restrictions, MPs on the public administration select committee (PASC) used a report earlier this year to criticise the way both the UK and Scottish governments had used their respective officials during the referendum campaign.
The Treasury came under fire from PASC for making public a letter by permanent secretary Nicholas Macpherson on the perils of a currency union, while the Scottish government was admonished for its use of official resources in drawing up its White Paper on independence .
Cabinet sec says Farr “dedicated his entire career to keeping our citizens safe and the country...
Civil service chief says combining the jobs is part of fusion agenda to boost teamwork across...
Former head of the home civil service and ex-cabinet secretary say nation is simply not ready...
Creation of Department for International Trade 'disruptive and unnecessary' – but it would stay under Labour, says Thornberry
Shadow foreign secretary says the FCO is suffering a “crisis of morale"
BT takes a look at the shifting nature of cyber threats, and how organisations can detect and...
Microsoft shows a few of the ways that governments can turn data into insight
With the ‘low-hanging fruit’ exhausted, the public sector must approach new government saving...
TCS is keen to contribute to the topic of successful partnerships between the public and private...