In Brief

Boris Johnson and Theresa May under fire for ‘failing to protect’ civil servants in Brexit wars

New report says both Tory leaders allowed officials to become ‘target for political attacks’

Theresa May and Boris Johnson let civil servants “hang out to dry” after the service was bombarded with criticism over Brexit, an investigation has found.

Whitehall sources including officials, ministers and special advisers spoke anonymously to the Institute for Government (IfG) in a bid to “shine a light on the behind-the-scenes experience of some of those involved in one of the most controversial chapters in British political history”, says The Guardian.

The independent think-tank’s findings reveal “the difficult decision-making and sheer exhaustion suffered by officials” in the run-up to the first Brexit deadline on 29 March 2019, adds the newspaper, which reports that Whitehall sources “heavily criticised May’s relationship with the civil service”. 

May is alleged to have “allowed her chief Europe adviser Sir Olly Robbins ‘to become a target for political attacks’ over her Brexit policy”, says ITV News

“The prime minister was notably silent,” says the IfG in a newly published report. “She offered no support to her key adviser, who was taking personal and professional attacks as a result of her policy decisions.” 

The Guardian says that according to Whitehall insiders, Johnson also used “the weapon of silence” when civil servants came under attack. The think-tank’s report notes that the PM “placed officials in an immensely difficult position by implying that he would break the law to take the UK out of the EU without a deal on 31 October 2019”.

“Excessive secrecy on Brexit” was another complaint. The IfG describes civil servants “huddling round” a single printout of a complicated no-deal tariff schedule because of “anxiety about leaks”.

The report also tells of staff “having to go to dark rooms to access documents on secure computers, and how a generous offer of ‘firebreak’ holiday after the second no-deal deadline on 12 April 2019 led to droves quitting their jobs” rather than face further “Brexit bedlam”, The Guardian adds.

IfG researcher Maddy Thimont Jack said: “Brexit demonstrated the very best of the civil service… But the task is still not complete and the tensions that Brexit exposed - particularly, between ministers and officials - have not necessarily gone away.”

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