UK Brexit minister Steve Baker apologises for suggesting civil servants trying to sabotage Brexit

Written by Kevin Schofield on 2 February 2018 in News

The UK Government minister had suggested that civil servants had doctored economic forecasts

Steve Baker - Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Steve Minister has performed a climbdown amid calls for Theresa May to sack him for making the claim in the House of Commons.

The UK Government Brexit minister told MPs he had heard that Treasury officials had doctored economic forecasts in an attempt to convince ministers that remaining in the customs union was the best option for the UK after Brexit.

Baker’s boss, Brexit Secretary David Davis, visibly winced at the remark, which came in response to a question by Jacob Rees-Mogg, chair of the Tory backbench European Research Group.

Baker said it was “essentially correct” to say he had heard the rumour from Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform think tank.

But audio of Grant's remarks – which were made at last year's Conservative party conference – did not appear to support Baker's version of events.

And in a statement, Grant said: "I did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all non-customs union options were bad, with the intention to influence policy."

Baker – who had earlier assured Downing Street that recollection was accurate – then took to Twitter to admit he had been wrong and insist he would "clarify" his comments to the Commons.

He tweeted: “This morning in Parliament, I answered a question based on my honest recollection of a conversation.

“As I said, I considered what I had understood to be implausible, because of the impartiality of the civil service.

“The audio of that conversation is now available and I am glad the record stands corrected.

“In the context of that audio, I accept that I should have corrected the premise of the question.

“I will apologise to Charles Grant, who is an honest and trustworthy man.

“As I have put on record many times, I have the highest regard for our hard working civil servants. I will clarify my remarks to the House.”

It was the second time in 48 hours that Baker has appeared to question the impartiality of government officials.

He claimed in the Commons on Tuesday that secret government analysis of the effects of Brexit had been leaked to the media in an attempt to "undermine" the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

But one senior Tory MP told Holyrood’s sister site PoliticsHome: "He should be composing his letter of resignation.

“He won't be and unless the PM sacks him it will be proof of who is running the Government – the hard Brexiteers."

Dave Penman, general secretary of the First Division Association, which represents civil servants, told PoliticsHome: "The Prime Minister should be questioning whether she has confidence in Steve Baker's ability to separate his ideological position with his responsibilities as a minister.

"Is he capable of being a minister? That's only for the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State to decide."

Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood appeared to take a swipe at Baker on Twitter by praising the work that civil servants do to help ministers form evidence-based policy.

Heywood said: “Proud to address @UKCivilService analysts yesterday.

“Every day their great work supports the Government in making evidence-based policy & helps deliver better public services across the country”.

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