- Brexit minister says he has heard claims that Treasury officials are conspiring against the government on Brexit.
- He says he has not confirmed the “extraordinary” claims that officials are deliberately trying to keep Britain in the customs union.
- However, Steve Baker’s account is categorically denied by the alleged source of the claims.
- A recording has since emerged which also contradicts Baker’s account.
LONDON – The civil service may be conspiring to keep Britain in the customs union after Brexit, the Brexit minister Steve Baker has suggested.
Civil servants are legally obliged to remain impartial on public policy. However, Baker was asked in the House of Commons by Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg whether he had heard claims that Treasury officials had “deliberately developed a model to show that every model other than staying in the customs union were bad and that officials had used this as a means to influence policy.”
Baker told MPs that he was “sorry to say that my honourable friend’s account is essentially correct.”
When challenged by opposition MPs, Baker insisted that he had not confirmed whether the “extraordinary” allegations were true, but was concerned about them.
He added: “I think we must proceed with great caution in this matter, but I have heard him raise this issue. I think we have to be very careful not to take this forward in an appropriate matter but he has reminded me of something I heard and I think it would be quite extraordinary if it turned out that such a thing had happened.”
Watch the Brexit minister on “extraordinary” conspiracy claims
Jacob Rees-Mogg asks if it is true that “officials in the Treasury have deliberately developed a model to show that all options other than saying in the Customs Union were bad and that officials intended to use this to influence policy” pic.twitter.com/qUTKvAJFi0
— BrexitCentral (@BrexitCentral) February 1, 2018
Baker and Mogg were referring to comments allegedly made by the Director of Centre for European Reform Charles Grant at a lunch in October last year.
However, Grant has categorically denied making the comments attributed to him by Mogg and Baker.
“I did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all non-customs union options were bad, with the intention to influence policy,” Grant said in a statement.
A spokesperson for the CER added: “The CER would like to clarify that Charles Grant told Steve Baker at the Conservative Party conference that he was aware of research carried out by the Treasury which apparently showed the economic benefits of free trade agreements with countries outside the EU were significantly less than the costs of leaving the customs union. Charles Grant did not say or imply that the Treasury had deliberately developed a model to show that all options outside the customs union were bad with an intention to influence policy.”
Grant’s account was confirmed by the Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach, who attended the lunch where the alleged comments were made, as well as several other attendees.
I was at the #Prospect lunch at which @CER_Grant is alleged to have made these comments as was a member of my staff. At NO point did I hear any suggestion of civil servants deliberately manipulating data modelling.
— Antoinette Sandbach (@Sandbach) February 1, 2018
Despite this, the government stood by Baker’s claim on Thursday afternoon. A spokesperson for the prime minister said that: “The minister has set the events out as he recalls them and we have no reason to doubt his account.”
They added that: “We have full confidence in him. He’s doing a good job at DeXEU.”
A recording of Grant’s speech at the lunch was later published by Prospect magazine.
In it Grant can be heard claiming that the Treasury are “determined” to stay in the customs union and refers to unpublished analysis about the costs of leaving. However, the recording does not include any claim or implication that the Treasury had deliberately “developed a model” to demonstrate this.
A leading civil service union leader today called for Baker to be sacked over his comments.
“He’s incapable of separating his ideological position from being a minister of state,” Dave Penman, head of the FDA, said.
He added: “[Baker] has twice now undermined the credibility of the government’s own analysis and the prime minister has to consider whether an MP is able to serve as a minister, rather than being dictated to by their ideology. How can she have confidence in a minister who twice does that?”
Baker was speaking following leaked civil service analysis which suggested this week that the British economy will grow at a slower rate after leaving the single market and Customs Union, than if it had stayed in.
The Brexit minister dismissed the analysis earlier this week, saying that such official forecasts were “always wrong.”
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