HMRC chief Jon Thompson reveals he received death threats over Brexit customs warning

Posted On: 
11th October 2018

The head of HMRC received death threats after warning that a key customs plan backed by Brexiteers would cost firms £20bn a year, it has emerged.

The HMRC chief said it had become "really really difficult" for officials to speak truth to power.
Louise Haywood-Schiefer

Jon Thompson said police have launched an investigation into the sinister development, which happened after he gave evidence to a committee of MPs.

He told the Treasury Select Committee in May that the so-called "maximum facilitation" customs arrangement, which would rely on technological checks to maintain an open border in Ireland, would cost companies £350m a week.

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Speaking at an event hosted by the the Institute for Government today, he said the first he knew his comments had caused a row was when his son texted to say he was trending on Twitter.

He said: "We have had to literally change how I travel and what my personal security is. We have had two death threats investigated by the Metropolitan Police for speaking truth unto power about Brexit."

Nicky Morgan - chair of the Treasury Committee to which Mr Thomspon gave the warning - told PoliticsHome it was "appalling that a public servant should be threatened for doing his job".

She added: "I am sure Mr Thompson considered what he said very carefully. As someone who has also been threatened it is deeply concerning that this is what Brexit seems to have done to public life."

Fellow committee member Wes Streeting, a Labour MP, meanwhile told this site the threats were "chilling".

"To see a public servant subjected to death threats for giving evidence to our committee in good faith is an affront to our democracy," he said.

Mr Streeting added: "It’s chilling. It’s time for decent people on all sides of the Brexit debate to unite against the poisonous elements on the fringes who seek to intimidate and threaten public figures.

"Newspaper editors also need to take a long hard look at themselves before publishing headlines and editorials demonising politicians, judges and civil servants as 'enemies of the people' and 'traitors' simply for offering their views.”

And Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake, speaking on behalf of the Best for Britain campaign, said: "The Brexit vote uncovered an ugly under-belly in British society - people who denounce as traitors those who don't support their Brexit views or set out the financial consequences of Brexit.

The MP warned: "Britain has a deserved reputation as a tolerant nation. The Brexit vote should not jeopardise this."

The HMRC chief had told PoliticsHome's sister site Civil Service World that he "didn't anticipate" the scale of the backlash to his warning.

"You know you’re in a [significant] moment because the question is a very powerful one and the answer is very stark,” he said.

"The first I knew it was significant was when my 28-year-old son text me with, ‘you’re trending on Twitter’. [I thought] 'oh, is that a good thing? I don’t know'."

He added: "I didn’t realise it would result in that, but I think it is absolutely incumbent on us to stick to the fundamental principles of the civil service, which is to give ministers the best advice that we can, and in a democracy minsters make the decisions.

"If what we are going to do is back away from that, for whatever reason, I don’t think that’s right. For me that is about personal integrity, and sometimes it is really really difficult – and it is tough with ministers – but it is the right thing to do."

A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister said: "It is completely unacceptable for death threats to be made against anybody."