EXCL Unions blast Jeremy Hunt for 'macho' threat to axe civil service holidays over no-deal
Jeremy Hunt has been accused of being "divorced from reality" as he threatened to cancel all civil service holidays unless no-deal Brexit preparations are up to scratch.
The Conservative leadership contender immediately came under fire from all three of Whitehall's unions as he pledged to axe annual leave for government workers in lagging departments amid an "immediate ramping up of no-deal preparations" on his first day as Prime Minister.
Mr Hunt told an audience at the Policy Exchange think tank: "All government departments will be expected to act on the basis that we are leaving without a deal on 31 October.
"All August leave will be cancelled unless I have a signed letter from the relevant permanent secretary saying that all preparations in his or her department are on time and on track."
But the move was blasted by trade unions representing officials who would be affected by the holiday cull.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman, whose members include government workers in the top ranks of the civil service, told PoliticsHome: "This macho rhetoric may go down well with the Tory electorate, but it's so divorced from reality as to undermine his credibility as a potential Prime Minister.
"The idea that you’d cancel the annual leave of 400,000 civil servants in August - 95% of whom are not involved in Brexit preparations - having given permanent secretaries a couple of weeks’ notice of this artificial deadline is simply ludicrous."
Mr Penman added: "Once again we’re seeing the blame for Brexit and all its consequences shifted on to the civil service.
"Not only have individuals been demonised, but now, like a class of school kids, the headteacher is going to punish them if his new arbitrary demands are not immediately met.
"Whether this gets Jeremy Hunt elected as leader of the Conservative party I’m unable to judge, but its not doing much to demonstrate he knows how to run the country."
Meanwhile the Prospect trade union, which represents managers and specialists in the civil service, branded the move "hypocrisy" at a time when MPs themselves were set to head off for their summer recess.
Deputy general secretary Garry Graham told PoliticsHome: “No peacetime government has ever been as reliant on its civil service as this one, and you’d think the Conservative party would be grateful for its work.
"Instead Jeremy Hunt wants to cancel all August leave for civil servants with less than a week’s notice, at the same time as MPs are going on a five week recess."
He added: "This call for civil service leave to be cancelled in August smacks of panic and hypocrisy. Politicians would be better placed putting their own house in order and finding a political solution to what is a political issue.”
And PCS, whose members include tens of thousands of frontline civil servants, said the plan was "utterly ludicrous".
General secretary Mark Serwotka said: “The Government’s handling of Brexit has been shambolic and civil servants have stepped up to the plate on numerous occasions and done their best to prepare for all eventualities.
“Our members working in job centres and other government departments are not responsible for the mess inflicted on them and the country by the sheer incompetence of ministers.
“They will not put up with their leave being cancelled.”
The row came as Mr Hunt - who has insisted he would only pursue a no-deal Brexit "with a heavy heart" - unveiled plans to set up a new Cabinet 'task force' in a bid to hold officials' feet to the fire over planning for a hard exit.
The new body would, he said, be tasked with rooting out "any areas where government preparations are insufficient", he said, as well as leading on financial support for industries hit by tariffs under a no-deal.
The Foreign Secretary also pledged to set up a £6bn no-deal fund to help ease the impact of a hard exit on the farming and agricultural sectors.
Mr Hunt said: "We spent just over £1 trillion bailing out the banks after the financial crisis. So if we did it for the bankers then why wouldn’t we do it what is needed for our fishermen and our farmers now?"
But Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake said the promised £6 billion was "nowhere near enough to protect the people of Britain from a no-deal Brexit".
"Jeremy Hunt keeps promising that he will mitigate the effects of no-deal on British business, but what he could do is just not throw our economy under the bus in the first place," the MP said.