Civil service chief warns staff media leaks 'will not be tolerated' amid row over Jeremy Corbyn health claims

Posted On: 
3rd July 2019

The UK's most senior civil servant has told top Whitehall staff that unauthorised briefings to the media "will not be tolerated" amid a row over claims about Jeremy Corbyn's health.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill warned that "disciplinary action will be taken against anyone" in breach of impartiality rules.
Credit: 
Civil Service World

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill has written to the permanent secretaries of all government departments demanding a crackdown on the "incredibly damaging" practice.

The letter - dated 1 July and revealed by the Guido Fawkes website - comes after The Times quoted unnamed civil servants claiming Mr Corbyn is too "frail" to become Prime Minister and suggesting that he has health problems.

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Those claims have been dismissed as “a farrago of nonsense” by the Labour leader.

The Cabinet Office has launched an investigation into whether the comments amount to a breach of the Civil Service Code - although Mr Corbyn has demanded a fully independent probe in order to ensure "trust" in the process.

The letter from Sir Mark says the civil service has "loyally supported" Theresa May over the past three years, and will need "to do the same for a government formed under a new Prime Minister, as we also would do were there to be a change of the party in Government".

He adds: "In particular, I want to be very clear that unauthorised briefing to the media about politicians or policy will not be tolerated. It is incredibly damaging for the overall integrity of the civil service and can undermine the confidence that ministers - and ministers in future governments have in the civil service. It is a breach of the Civil Service Code and disciplinary action will be taken against anyone who has been found to be in breach of this provision."

The Cabinet Secretary - who is also the head of the civil service - urged senior officials to "discuss the values" of the organisation with staff "and encourage them to ask their senior civil service colleagues to be thinking about them as part of planning for forthcoming changes".

The letter comes after the boss of the union representing senior civil servants accused Mr Corbyn of peddling "conspiracies" by suggesting that Whitehall officials cannot be trusted to investigate the comments to The Times.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman told PoliticsHome: “At the heart of this issue is a conversation over coffee between individual civil servants that has been reported to The Times.

“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.”

The Cabinet Office has been approached for comment.