WATCH: Tory minister Steve Baker says sorry to parliament over civil servants Brexit sabotage row
Conservative minister Steve Baker was today forced to apologise in the House of Commons for suggesting civil servants could be conspiring to scupper Brexit.
He said he should have “corrected and dismissed” the claims put to him by fellow eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg, and insisted he held the “highest regard for our hard-working civil servants”.
Mr Baker was forced into the humiliating climbdown amid calls for Theresa May to sack him over his conduct yesterday.
He agreed in the Commons that he had heard claims from Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform think tank, that Treasury officials had doctored economic forecasts in an attempt to prove that remaining in the customs union was the best option for the UK after Brexit.
Brexit Secretary David Davis, Mr Baker's boss, could be seen wincing at his comments.
But audio of Mr Grant's remarks - which were made at a lunch Mr Baker attended at last year's Conservative party conference - proved he had never made the claims attributed to him.
The minister apologised on Twitter last night, and formally said sorry to MPs at the start of Commons business today.
He said: "Yesterday I answered a question based on my honest recollection of a conversation. As I explained yesterday, I considered what I understood to be the suggestion being put to me as implausible because of the long-standing and well regarded 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 or dismissed the premise of my honourable friend’s question.
“I have apologised to Mr 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 am grateful for this early opportunity to correct the record Mr Deputy Speaker, and I apologise to the House.”
It was the second time in 48 hours that Mr 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.
One senior Tory MP told 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.
Meanwhile, Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood appeared to take a swipe at Mr Baker on Twitter by praising the work that civil servants do to help ministers form evidence-based policy.