TUC urges May to act to defend civil service impartiality

Written by Richard Johnstone on 12 September 2018 in News
News

Umbrella trade union body said former Brexit minister Steve Baker’s attacks on civil servants from the dispatch box represented “a new low”

Photo: PA

The annual Trade Unions Congress in Manchester has unanimously passed a motion condemning attacks on civil service impartiality from across the political spectrum and called on prime minister Theresa May to do more to defend the integrity of officials.

A motion to the conference submitted by the FDA trade union conceited what it called “unwarranted attacks on the impartiality, integrity and professionalism of the civil service”.

The motion warned that “for some politicians and commentators, across the political spectrum, undermining the public’s trust in a politically impartial civil service is a price worth paying to further their ideological objectives”, and called comments from Brexit-backing MP Steve Baker when he was a minister as a “new low”.


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When a minister at DExEU in January, Baker accused civil servants of undermining Britain’s EU exit after a confidential economic analysis was leaked to the media and appeared to accuse civil servants of deliberately developing analysis to favour a continued close relationship with the EU.

He later apologised after it was revealed that he had misrepresented a conversation with Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Research. Baker had agreed, following a question from backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, that he had been told by Grant that officials in the Treasury had “deliberately developed” a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union were bad for the UK economy.

However, Grant subsequently claimed that he had only told Baker that he was aware of research carried out by the Treasury that showed that the economic benefits of free trade agreements with countries outside the EU were significantly less than the costs of leaving the customs union, and Baker apologised and clarified his remarks.

The TUC motion highlighted the fact that Baker’s comments “have now come from the dispatch box, from a serving government minister, signals a new low in the conduct of a government so evidently at war with itself”.

It called on all politicians to avoid undermining the impartiality and integrity of the civil service and urged May “to publicly condemn such comments and discipline ministers if they are responsible for them”.

“All serving government ministers need to live up to their duty to their civil servants and to defend the integrity and impartiality of the service," the motion stated.

“Failure to do so swiftly and publicly, in the knowledge that civil servants cannot defend themselves publicly, risks further undermining the public’s trust in the service.

“These attacks will inevitably have profound longer-term consequences for any government seeking to convince the electorate of major policy initiatives where it seeks to use the analysis and expertise of the civil service to make its case."

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Richard Johnstone is CSW's deputy and online editor and tweets as @CSW_DepEd

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