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EU Referendum

Petulant PM and henchman who’s now a toxic figure: QUENTIN LETTS on Cameron and Heywood’s anti-Brexit double act

Grow up: Prime Minister David Cameron

Were the BBC reviving its 1980s TV sitcom Yes, Minister today it might have to change a few things.

Get Lost, Minister would now be a more accurate title. The show’s opening credits would need to be less benign, too.

Mandarin Sir Humphrey, far from the droll fixer suggested by the late actor Nigel Hawthorne, has been exposed as something more sinister and bent.

We have reached the position – laughable, bizarre, outrageous, unBritish – where civil servants have been instructed to hide paperwork from Eurosceptic ministers.

These officials have, furthermore, been ordered by David Cameron and his unelected henchman Sir Jeremy Heywood to spy on ministers if they want to leave the EU.

Cabinet Secretary Heywood is a former stooge of Tony Blair, another power-giddy prime minister. Only this week we have learned from a new biography of Mr Blair that he bypassed proper Cabinet government when he took us to war in Iraq. Are we seeing a repeat of that disastrous scandal?

Mr Cameron is starting to look petulant. He is starting to look like a man who is losing the arguments. First he sneered at Boris Johnson for coming out for ‘Leave’. Now he snatches away official information from senior members of Her Majesty’s Government, saying ‘nah, you can’t look at that cos you’re not on my side’.

Oh for Heaven’s sake, Prime Minister, do grow up. These are Her Majesty’s ministers, not yours. You are simply ‘primus inter pares’ and there are limits on your sway.

Yet under the Heywood/Cameron doctrine, Eurosceptic Michael Gove, who in addition to being Secretary of State for Justice holds the ancient position of Lord Chancellor, may not be shown official legal documents relating to the EU referendum.

Hang on. Mr Gove is accountable to Parliament, thereby to the British people, for his department’s work. If he may not be told everything his officials are doing, how can he possibly do his job?

Similarly, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith – a former Guards officer, former Leader of the Opposition, a man of high principles and patriotism – is barred from knowing research his department is conducting into our EU membership. No line manager in modern business would accept such limitations on his or her knowledge.

Both Justice and the Work and Pensions Department are at the forefront of the EU debate with the controversies on benefits and legal sovereignty. If the Secretaries of State do not know what is being done by their officials, how can we be sure the work is accurate and factual, as Civil Service law demands?

Call me a cynic, but I’d say it is possible that officials will be told by an increasingly strident Downing Street to pump out lies, bolster dubious claims and generally act like propagandists. Is this what we want from Whitehall? If you think that far-fetched, look at how the civil service machine was used to attack Scots Nationalist Party positions before the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

One of Mr Cameron’s ministerial allies, Matt Hancock, tried to defend the concealment policy in the Commons yesterday. He was monstered by the House, MPs lining up to tell young Hancock that it was ‘appalling’, ‘sordid’ and ‘constitutional gibberish’ to let civil servants decide what could and could not be shown to certain ministers. ‘Rubbish!’ they yelled at him, ‘no, no, no!’ and so forth.

Mr Hancock insisted civil servants must always serve the Government of the day. The Cameron Government had come out in support of remaining in the EU, he added. Ergo, civil servants could not aid Leave sympathisers. That narrow excuse was not accepted by infuriated MPs on the Tory backbenches. The issue was a great deal more complicated than that, they said.

Civil servants are supposed to be impartial. Yet there is an implicit assumption from Sir Jeremy that the material which is being hidden from Eurosceptic ministers is partial towards the Remain side.

Second, this information which may not be shown to Eurosceptic ministers’ noses will still (albeit with difficulty) be discoverable to the public via Freedom of Information, and to MPs via parliamentary written questions. What an absurdity! Anyone but the minister will be able to know.

Third, as Michael Fabricant (Con, Lichfield) put it: ‘If we’re so much stronger in Europe, what is it that the Government is so careful to hide?’ Mr Fabricant, a Leave man, concluded: ‘This is a huge blunder. The general public will think this decision is petty and vindictive.’

Matt Hancock tried to defend the concealment policy in the Commons, insisting civil servants must always serve the Government of the day

Matt Hancock tried to defend the concealment policy in the Commons, insisting civil servants must always serve the Government of the day


The referendum is basically about our right to get rid of over-mighty politicians. Could there be a worse example of political egomania? Even pro-EU MPs thought the move was madness. As Crispin Blunt (Con, Reigate) noted, the whole point of the EU referendum is to give the British people a say. If voters think the campaign has been skewed by Whitehall propaganda, they will not entirely accept the result of the referendum.

Meanwhile, Dennis Skinner (Lab, Bolsover) observed that the whole thing was doing little for Conservative party unity – something Mr Cameron said he hoped to preserve. Mr Skinner said there would be ‘threats and counter threats’ between ministers. As in ‘The Godfather’, Eurosceptics could soon find horses’ heads in their beds.

Sir Jeremy is the man the Mail has nicknamed ‘Sir Cover-Up’. He is said to resent that moniker, though it seems increasingly justified, maybe even understated. This ruling is so ridiculously secretive he has been summoned to a Commons select committee today to explain himself.

Cabinet Secretaries were once remote grandees, shimmering above the day-to-day fray of politics. Sir Jeremy, who may not be as skilful as he thinks, has become a toxic figure. Whatever the legal niceties of his ban on Eurosceptic ministers seeing sensitive papers, his conduct is harming the reputation of the Civil Service. With that he damages the electorate’s trust in our politics. He is behaving more and more like a European Commission official rather than a servant of Queen and country.

Why doesn’t he just do the honest thing and go and join the Brussels bureaucracy now?

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/columnists/article-3470351/QUENTIN-LETTS-Cameron-Heywood-s-anti-Brexit-double-act.html

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