Conservative MP attacks culture of Whitehall leaks

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Malcolm Tucker, fictional spin doctor from BBC's The Thick of It
Malcolm Tucker, fictional spin doctor from BBC's The Thick of It (Source: BBC)

A Conservative MP has hit out at the culture of leaking at the top of politics after a week of controversy over the government's Brexit strategy.

Treasury Select Committee (TSC) member Steve Baker today pushed the Treasury to find out who was responsible for comments made anonymously earlier this week to national newspapers which seemed to attack the international trade secretary Liam Fox and Brexit secretary David Davis.

A leaked memo from the department, headed up by chancellor Philip Hammond also warned about the £66bn of a so-called hard Brexit as speculation mounts that Hammond is on course for a showdown with his cabinet colleagues over what route Britain should take out of the EU.

Read more: The Single Market battle is the Remainers' last Brexit stand

Baker asked Tom Scholar, the Treasury's top civil servant, to look into who was responsible, though both admitted it would be largely impossible to find out who was responsible or hold them to account.

We are doing our job, which is to analyse the economic impact of different policies so we can take decisions on the basis of facts. The other side aren’t doing that – their position is based on faith that things will be better

- Anonymous "Treasury source", quoted in The Telegraph

The MP for Wycombe told City A.M.: "I consider it an extremely serious breach to find a senior treasury official has attacked the trade secretary.

"There are rules of politics and government which ought not to be broken, because they are in the interests of good governance. Among those rules is that civil servants do not attack members of the cabinet."

Read more: Labour's 170 questions on Brexit

Baker also warned that special advisers, who are employed directly by senior government ministers, rather than departments, may be tempted to engage in political gamesmanship.

"It is quite wrong for special advisers to brief against ministers," he said. "To govern well we need to govern as a team and it really is quite outrageous when special advisers brief against members of the government.

"I hope the Prime Minister will nip in the bud the tendency of special advisers to defend their ministers by attacking others as a courtier might defend a monarch."

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