Amber Rudd: ‘I have complete confidence’ in the civil service
The Home Secretary has defended the civil service after recent comments made by members of her party. Brexit minister Steve Baker and backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg – now the chair of the influential European Research Group – have both criticised the institution.
Baker apologised to the House of Commons on Friday for suggesting that there was significant internal pressure from civil servants to stay in the EU customs union, while Rees-Mogg accused officials who drew up a post-Brexit economic analysis of ‘fiddling the figures’. Rudd told Andrew Marr that the British civil service is the envy of the world:
AM: [Do] you have complete confidence in civil servants – particularly Treasury civil servants – in their impartiality, integrity and their professionalism?
AR: Yes I do. I have complete confidence in them. We are envied the world over for our high standards of our civil servants, and I would say now more than ever that we need to make sure that we attract the best into our civil service to take on what is an enormous challenge in terms of leaving the EU.
AM: So when Mr Rees-Mogg for instance says they are ‘fiddling the figures’, and others suggest [their economic forecasts] are propaganda, what’s your message for them?
AR: I am very surprised at Jacob because he is famously courteous, famously thoughtful and articulate, so I’m very surprised that he has used that language. I think that he is wrong here. This document that he is referring to is not a Treasury document anyway. It’s prepared across different departments and it’s a tool for informing those of us on the EU subcommittee about the choices that are going to be made…
AM: There’s a lot of hurt inside the civil service about some of those comments… What is your message to those people?
AR: They are valued, they are important to us, we respect their objectivity… and we need to make sure that we continue to attract the best into the civil service.
When Marr put it to Rudd that economic projections made by the civil service are often inaccurate, she said: ‘that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them’.
Rudd also declared that the Brexit subcommittee, referred to by some as the Brexit ‘is more united than “Brexiteers” think’, adding ‘I think that we will arrive at something that suits us all’. Marr also brought up a story in the Sunday Times which suggested that Theresa May could be deposed and replaced with a so-called ‘dream team’ with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister and Michael Gove as his deputy. When asked if she would serve as Chancellor in a government led by Johnson, Rudd replied: ‘that is such a difficult question on so many levels I’m going to have to pass!’
Gus O’Donnell compares Brexit to ‘snake oil’
The former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell has further defended civil servants, going one further than the Home Secretary. He dismissed criticism that the civil service was not impartial, telling Robert Peston such suggestions were ‘completely crazy’ and ‘ridiculous’, before risking pouring oil on the flames by appearing to compare Brexit to ‘snake oil’:
GOD: If you take a civil servant, and you were to cut them in half – and let’s be honest, there’s a lot of MPs out there who would love to do this – you would get, like a stick of rock, you’d see the honesty, objectivity, integrity and impartiality. That’s the point: we look at the evidence and we go where it is Now, of course if you are selling snake oil, you don’t like the idea of experts and testing your product. And I think that’s what we’ve got. This backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go… Sometimes you get these attacks because they just don’t like the message.
O’Donnell also commented on the friction between the Prime Minister and her Chancellor, opining that: ‘If they fail to come to a conclusion then things get incredibly serious’.
Claire Kober: ‘A man would not have been treated in the same way’
Claire Kober, the former leader of Haringey Council, joined Andrew Marr to talk about her experiences leading up to her dramatic resignation on Tuesday. Kober’s resignation came after a row within the local Labour party about the future of a private housing scheme known as the Haringey Development Vehicle, which she and her cabinet supported. Many of her colleagues were deselected en masse ahead of the local elections in May this year in favour of candidates largely drawn from the Momentum group that favours Jeremy Corbyn. She told Marr about the abuse and intimidation she had suffered:
CK: I’ve been the leader for 10 years… As any sort of politician in a front line role , you become pretty resilient. I have to say, in the last two years, my experience has been… more threats, more bullying more intimidation that in the previous 8 years put together.
AM: And you sad it’s sexist as well?
CK: It’s absolutely sexist. That runs from the way I was treated by the National Executive of my party just last week, and I don’t believe that a man would have been treated in the same way, through to examples of in council meetings where Labour party members at the end of a meeting and sung a Police song – ‘Every Breath You Take’ – as a means of intimidating me. That is a song about stalking…
AM: Who do you blame for this?
CK: I point to a particular political toxic culture. I don’t blame individuals because, these acts if you look at them in isolation, perhaps don’t look too significant. When you put them together you see a whole culture.
Kober also told Marr that she felt that she could not complain to the Labour party’s National Executive Committee about her situation because: ‘I would [have to] complain to the very body that I feel most disillusioned by. Why would I complain to people who have treated me in this way?’
Brandon Lewis: We will tackle abusive behaviour
Following on from Claire Kober’s remarks, the new Chairman of the Conservative party told Sarah Smith about his plans to tackle the climate of abuse in modern politics. Brandon Lewis attacked the conduct of the ‘hard left’ and announced how the government intended to improve the lot of political candidates, as well as general discourse in public life:
"We cannot allow the hard-left to create a situation where people feel so intimidated that they're not prepared to come forward and have their say" – @BrandonLewis tells #bbcsp pic.twitter.com/IwgNn7PFjX
— BBC Daily Politics and Sunday Politics (@daily_politics) February 4, 2018
SS: You’ve got plans you say to tackle intimidation in political life?
BL: I think there’s a range of things [we can do]… We cannot allow the hard left to create a situation where people feel so intimidated that they’re not prepared to come forward and have their say…
SS: Not necessarily just the hard left…
BL: Well what we’re seeing… is actually people on the left giving horrendous abuse to people right across the political spectrum… Whether somebody’s views are of the centre, the right or the left, they should have the freedom and the knowledge that they can come forward and stand as a candidate. So there’s a few things we’re doing. Firstly, we are going to change the law to make it against the law for people to intimidate people. Part of that is allowing local election candidates to not have to [declare] their home address… But also from the Conservative party point of view, internally we’re going to have – as I launched a few weeks ago – a respect pledge that all our candidates will sign up to. If they breach that code, we will suspend them, and we will investigate it, and I’m disappointed that the Labour leadership have still have not stepped up to the plate to do the right thing on this.
Gerry Adams: I would like to see Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister
And the outgoing leader of Sinn Fein has declared his preference for winner of the next UK general election. Adams told Andrew Marr that he believed a Corbyn premiership would be for the good of the country as a whole:
AM: [Labour] is now led by a man who has always supported a united Ireland. He’s been a big backer of yours over the years. What difference would it make to the island of Ireland, and to Sinn Fein and your cause to have Jeremy Corbyn as British Prime Minister, which he might well be?
GA: I would like to see Jeremy in that position for the benefit of people in Britain, leaving Ireland out of it. I think Jeremy is an outstanding politician and I hope my endorsement of him is not used against him in the time ahead. Yes, he and Ken Livingstone and others kept faith, and they were the people who said, when others said no, talk. They were the people who were open to conversation about how to deal with conflict and how to get conflict resolution processes.
When asked about the past, Adams stated: ‘the IRA has gone’, adding: ‘I was not a member of the IRA but I’ve never distanced myself from the IRA’. On Brexit, Adams told Marr that he believed: ‘the solution to this problem is special designated status for the North in the European Union. That is very, very, very doable’.