The use of civil servants to give advice to a group of Conservative backbencers preparing a new Brexit plan for Theresa May should be investigated, senior MPs demanded.
The Group – made up of Tory backbenchers including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nicky Morgan has been meeting in the Cabinet Office aided by mandarins this week.
They were assisted by around a dozen civil servants from the Department for Exiting the European Union, the HMRC and the Northern Ireland Office.
Remainer Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable and seven other MPs including Sir Ed Davey have written to Britain’s top civil servant Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill to investigate whether the use of impartial officials breached Whitehall rules.
Sir Vince Cable who signed the letter wrote: “I am writing following reports that civil servants may have been advising Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nicky Morgan on their alternative Brexit proposals.
“These plans were apparently hammered out in the office of housing minister Kit Malthouse.
“Please can you confirm whether it is correct that civil servants have been providing this support and whether any other civil service resources have been used?
“If they have, I would question whether using civil servants to support a backbench initiative is either a sensible use of taxpayers’ money or maintains the much-valued independence and impartiality of civil servants.”
The letter argues civil service rules state civil servants are there to support government “and presumably not backbenchers or opposition parties.”
It added public funds should not be used for party political purposes and “securing an alternative deal, palatable to Conservative backbenchers would clearly fall into the category of a party political purpose.”
The letter also calls on Mr Sedwill to reveal the precise extent of civil service time spent on the meetings which are considering the so-called Malthouse Compromise.
It asks whether any civil servants have complained under the code.
The government’s instruction to civil servants to support the Alternative Arrangements Working Group has been taken as an indication of support for the plan by No 10.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson Tom Brake MP said:“If Ministers have been instructing civil servants to assist Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nicky Morgan in their quest to find a unicorn, that can piece the Tory party back together again, this would be a flagrant breach of Ministerial rules.
“Any costs associated with such a naked party political stunt would have to be reimbursed to taxpayers and instructions issued to all Ministers to refrain from abusing civil service resources in this way.”
A Government source told talkRADIO: “Civil servants have been assisting Ministers — and it is clearly an appropriate use of resources to help deliver Brexit legislation through Parliament.
“Liberal Democrats should declare their interest as a party that wants to ignore the will of the British people.”
By Tony Whitfield & Ross Kempsell