Five ministers face information blackout over Brexit rebellion

Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. John Stillwell/PA Wire
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood. John Stillwell/PA Wire
Have your say

MINISTERS wanting to leave the EU will suffer an information black-out as the civil service is banned from helping with campaign work.

Civil servants and special advisors won’t be able to provide briefings or speech material for the five cabinet members and junior ministers who have deserted the Prime Minister in his campaign for a reformed EU.

However Head of the Civil Service, Jeremy Heywood, has confirmed his staff will be able to help those campaigning to remain in the EU the run up to the June 23 referendum.

The ruling has caused outrage among the leave camp, although ministers campaigning for Brexit such as Iain Duncan Smith are understood to have been expecting the decision and had been breifed in advance.

With current polling showing the split between voters wanting to stay in the EU and those who want to leave is finely balanced, critics have claimed the decision to be an ‘appalling’ deal for the tax-payer.

The announcement fron Mr Heywood came yesterday lunchtime as the Prime Minister visited Slough in Berkshire to drum up support for staying in the EU.

Mr Heywood wrote: “It will not be appropriate or permissible for the civil service to support ministers who oppose the Government’s official position by providing briefing or speech material on this matter.

“This includes access to official departmental papers, excepting papers that Minister have previously seen on issues relating to the referendum question prior to the suspension of collective agreement.

“These rules will apply also to their special advisers.”

Pro-Brexit Ministers will still be able to check facts with departments through normal procedures.

There is also a requirement to ensure collective responsiblity is maintained in every other dealing over the EU, including debates and votes in the UK Parliament on EU business,

A spokesperson for the Leave.EU campaign said regardless of which way someone is going to vote ‘they would be disgusted’ at the decision.

He said: “People will be appalled that their money will be used to fuel propaganda for the ‘in campaign’.

“If I recall the Prime Minister said he wouldn’t do this and the civil service would remain neutral, so that’s another one of his cast iron promises that he’s broken to the public.”

Philip Davies, Conservative MP for Shipley and a member of the Grassroots Out campaign to leave the EU said, said: “The Government are clearly trying to rig as many rules as possible to make it as hard for the Leave campaign as possible.

“One can only presume that is because they know their case is so weak. However, I trust the public to see past these typical grubby establishment tactics and make the right decision in the referendum”

The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said the rules drawn up by Mr Heywood were in place to ensure there’s a distinction in the material available to those who are following the Government line, and those who have taken a different path following the EU Council deal.

She said: “It’s making a distinction between what already exists and they may have seen, and work that obviously may now be done in the context of the Government having a clear position to remain in the EU and therefore they shouldn’t have access to that kind of material.

“They of course of able to request that departments check facts, and that should be done in the usual way.”

She denied that the measures would be unfair on ministers campaigning to leave the EU as the civil service is there to support whichever Government is in power.

She said: “First, there’s a Government position on it. So this is about how the civil service have a role to support the Government of the day, not just support personal positions.”