EXCL Civil service union chief accuses Jeremy Corbyn of peddling ‘conspiracies’ over health row
A senior trade union boss has accused Jeremy Corbyn of peddling "conspiracies" by suggesting that Whitehall officials cannot be trusted to investigate comments made by civil servants about his health.
Dave Penman, general secretary of the First Division Association - which represents senior civil servants - hit out as the Labour leader demanded an independent probe into the row.
Reports in The Times on Saturday quoted unnamed civil servants claiming Mr Corbyn is too "frail" to become Prime Minister and suggesting that he has health problems.
The Cabinet Office has launched an investigation into whether the comments amount to a breach of the civil service code, while Number 10 has said those responsible could be sacked if they are identified.
But Mr Corbyn, who is due to meet with Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to discuss the matter, has demanded a fully independent probe in order to ensure "trust" in the process.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, Mr Penman said Mr Corbyn had “undermined” his support for an impartial civil service by suggesting officials could not reliably investigate the issue.
“At the heart of this issue is a conversation over coffee between individual civil servants that has been reported to The Times,” he said.
“It does not represent the settled view of the civil service, however overblown the reporting has become.
“Claims of Establishment conspiracies and calls for independent investigations are not only disproportionate, but only serve to undermine the impartiality he professes to support.”
In a letter to Sir Mark Sedwill, Mr Corbyn said: “This matter has inevitably undermined confidence in the principle of civil service neutrality, which is integral to the healthy functioning of our democracy.”
“For there to be trust in any investigation, there need to be assurances on its scope and independence.
“In the light of this, I would urge you to ensure that there is a speedy and thorough independent investigation, rather than one carried out by the Cabinet Office.”
But the Prime Minister's spokesman said: ""The Cabinet Office is investigating this potential breach of the civil service code fully and fairly, just as it would any other.
"We are taking the matter extremely seriously. If an individual is identified as being responsible, then disciplinary action will be taken."