Brexit minister apologises to parliament after suggesting civil servants were conspiring against the government

  • Brexit minister Steve Baker MP apologises after suggesting the civil service might be conspiring against the government.
  • The Conservative MP had said he’d heard comments that Treasury officials were trying to keep Britain in the Customs Union after Brexit.
  • But a recording shows the man who allegedly made these comments actually said no such thing.

The Brexit minister has apologised after suggesting that the civil service could be conspiring to keep Britain in the Customs Union after Brexit.

On Thursday, Steve Baker MP 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.”

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, and a recording of Grant’s comments was subsequently published by Prospect Magazine. In it he can be heard claiming that the Treasury are “determined” to stay in the customs union and refers to unpublished analysis about the costs of leaving.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.

In a verbal statement to MPs on Friday morning, Baker withdrew his comments and apologised to Grant.

Watch Steve Baker’s apology to Parliament

The minister told MPs:

“Yesterday I answered a question based on my honest recollection of a conversation. As I explained yesterday, I considered what I understood to have been the suggestion being put to me as being implausible because of the long-standing impartiality of the civil service. The audio of that conversation is now available and I am glad that 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.”

Asked about the row on Thursday, the prime minister said that Baker was right to “amend the record” on his comments.

Speaking to journalists on her trip to China, she said: “What I understand the minister did was to reflect what he thought somebody else had said at a meeting. He has now recalled that was not right, he is going to apologise, he is going to ensure that the record in Hansard is correct. That’s what the ministerial code asks him to do, and that is what he will be doing.”

Baker faced calls on Thursday for Theresa May to sack him. “He’s incapable of separating his ideological position from being a minister of state,” Dave Penman, head of the leading civil service union 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?”

Here’s a video Steve Baker and Jacob Rees-Mogg’s exchange in Parliament:

And here’s audio of Charles Grant’s comments:

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