Sir Jeremy Heywood, Britain’s most senior civil servant has caused uproar amongst Eurosceptic MPs.
His new ‘guidance’, banning cabinet ministers from accessing official documents and receiving briefings ahead of the EU Referendum in June, has been labelled unfair amid calls for full transparency in what is supposed to be a free and fair public vote.
In the five page letter circulated among civil servants and ministers, Sir Jeremy said: “It will not be appropriate or permissible for the Civil Service to support ministers who oppose the Government’s official position by providing briefing or speech material on this matter.
“This includes access to official departmental papers, excepting papers that ministers have previously seen on issues relating to the referendum question prior to the suspension of the collective agreement.”
He added: “Departments may check facts for such ministers on request. And civil servants should continue to support such ministers in undertaking all official government business in the usual way.”
An urgent question was called and Matthew Hancock MP answered questions from MPs over the guidance today in parliament (29/02/2016).
Many Tory Eurosceptics spoke, with most suggesting the ‘ban’ was unfair, some suggesting not even entirely legal. Many wondered how such a ban could actually work with everyday cabinet duties.
Labour MPs, however, used the opportunity to call for the sacking of all Cabinet Ministers who advocated leaving the EU.
An excellent summary of public opinion was given in a brief comment by Mike Fabricant MP (Conservative, Lichfield). Mike casually asks what exactly the government have to hide.
Michael Fabricant MP:
I’m personally torn, in that I believe the government feel they have a legal right to what they have done, but the whole thing stinks of a lack of transparency and suggests the government are worried their case to remain is not strong enough.
Surely the appearance of fairness and transparency is important in the case of such a monumental public referendum?
Full Debate 29/02/2016:
Update 01/03/2016: PACAC interview Sir Jeremy Heywood
References and further reading
- EU referendum: Civil servants banned from helping Brexit ministers. The Independent, 23/02/2016.
- Brexit ministers banned by top mandarin Sir Jeremy Heywood from briefings and documents ahead of EU referendum. The Telegraph, 23/02/2016.
- Heywood’s unconstitutional act threatens the reputation of the civil service. The Telegraph, 29/02/2016.
- ‘Brexit’ Ministers Get Civil Service Ban. Sky News, 23/02/2016.