Rees-Mogg's comments regarding the civil service had "no basis in fact"by Stephanie Boland / February 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
Antoinette Sandbach has today accused her fellow Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg of “attempting to malign a member of the public from the floor of the House of Commons.”
The Eddisbury MP also said Rees-Mogg had made “a very serious allegation about the conduct of the civil service” which had “no basis in fact.”
Her remarks follow a row over comments allegedly made by Charles Grant to Tory Brexit minister Steve Baker regarding an apparent attempt by the Civil Service to influence policy to stay in the EU customs union.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Rees-Mogg asked Mr Baker if had heard that “officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union were bad and that officials intended to use this to influence policy.”
Mr Baker replied said this account was “essentially correct,” adding: “At the time I considered it implausible because my direct experience is that civil servants are extraordinarily careful to uphold the impartiality of the civil service.”
He qualified his remarks by saying: “I didn’t say it was correct. I said the account that was put to me is correct.”
Charles Grant’s remarks
In a statement issued by the Centre for European reform, Charles Grant denied that he had put this to Baker, referring to remarks made at a Prospect lunch at last year’s Conservative party conference. Grant’s remarks on the subject, transcribed from a Prospect audio record of the event, were:
“Two points. Firstly, a general one. We’re all assuming that Britain’s going to leave the customs union; I think that is likely but not certain. I think it is certain we’ll leave the EU, it’s certain we’ll leave the single market, but it’s not certain we’ll leave the customs union for two reasons.
Firstly, I’m not sure there’s a majority in parliament for that, the Labour party is now in favour of staying in, certainly, a customs union—we just need a fairly small number of Tory rebels and we stay in the customs union.
And secondly the Treasury is determined to stay in the customs union and in private treasury officials said that there […] we’re never going to stay in it during the transition, they hope that when we’re in transition people will understand the economic costs of leaving are rather high.
And there are unpublished papers sitting in the Treasury that certain people are trying to get hold of under FOI requests showing that the economic costs of leaving the single market and the customs union are much greater than the economic benefits of doing a trade agreement with any other country in the world.
So, I’m not certain we’re going to leave, but [I’m told that] the prime minister is, very much believes that we should leave, and I think other things being equal we’re more likely to leave than not leave.”
Sandbach: “No basis in fact”
After the audio was published today, Sandbach—who also attended the lunch—said:
“I was at the meeting where Mr Grant is alleged to have made these comments by Mr Rees-Mogg. Mr Rees-Mogg claims ‘that officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than staying in the customs union were bad and that officials intended to use this to influence policy’.
“Mr Grant did not say this, or anything to this effect.
“Mr Rees-Mogg was not even in attendance at the meeting.
“This is a clear attempt to malign a member of the public from the floor of the House of Commons, who is unable to respond in kind. My recollection of our conversation is in accordance with the statement that Mr Grant has made, this recollection is also supported by the chair of the meeting and others.
Furthermore, in his question Mr Rees-Mogg makes a very serious allegation about the conduct of the civil service. Given that there is no basis in fact for his comment he must consider how he should respond from here.”
In a statement to Prospect, Grant said: “This audio recording corroborates my earlier statement that I did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all options outside the customs union were bad, with the intention to influence policy.”
Mr Rees-Mogg did not respond to a request for comment by the time this article went to press, although he subsequently made remarks at an “in conversation” on Thursday evening:
Rees-Mogg then goes on to assert again that the Treasury is creating models to drive the policy it wants, and says he holds the Chancellor responsible.
— Robert Hutton (@RobDotHutton) February 1, 2018
Listen to the audio of Grant’s remarks here.