Rycroft reveals revised Twitter guidelines after Home Office’s ‘activist lawyers’ post

Perm sec says additional layers of assurance have been introduced following the tweet, which he previously said ‘should not have been used on an official government channel’
Photo: ParliamentTV/Twitter (via PoliticsHome)

By Eleanor Langford

11 Sep 2020

The Home Office’s permanent secretary has said new measures have been put in place to prevent “political” messages being shared on official accounts, after a tweet that made mention of "activist lawyers".

Matthew Rycroft told MPs that “additional layers of assurance” had been added to ensure no language was used on social media which is not “compatible with what civil servants should be using”.

The move comes after the department received backlash for posting a video with a caption that stated the current rules on deporting asylum seekers are “open to abuse… allowing activist lawyers to delay and disrupt returns.”

The tweet was later amended, but home secretary Priti Patel reignited tensions by using the phrase “activist lawyers” in a separate tweet a week later.

Appearing before the Public Accounts Committee yesterday, Rycroft said he wanted to “pay tribute” to the department’s staff who were “grappling with complex fast-moving, and sometimes divisive issues” in their work.

“On this occasion, they used in a video, which as you know came out from the Home Office Twitter account, using lines which were, in my view, political,” the senior civil servant continued.

“They’re absolutely fine for a minister or a special advisor or any other politician to use, but they weren't, in my view, compatible with what civil servants should be using.

“So that was why, having been brought to my attention, I decided that it shouldn't be used from a Home Office account.”

Asked by home affairs select committee chair Yvette Cooper – who joined the committee’s Zoom session with Rycroft – who had approved the message, Rycroft added: “It had been produced by civil servants in the Home Office press office, but using lines which would have been created in part by special advisers.”

And, setting out the measures currently in place, he continued: “First of all, every civil servant needs to know what the civil service code says. They need to understand what it means for each of them in their own roles. Each line manager needs to check that everyone working for them has got that understanding.

“In relation to the press office, in particular, there are additional layers of assurance to check before anything goes out that no such inadvertent error is about to happen again.

“And those checks are in places, but there's an extra level of checks which is now in place to ensure that it doesn't happen again.”

Eleanor Langford is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared.

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