Britain”s top civil servant wrote to senior Whitehall mandarins yesterday to warn that it was “not appropriate or permissible” for the Civil Service to provide information or assist with speeches or other material for ministers siding with the “leave” campaign.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood also warned that the assistance could not be given because calling for an EU exit conflicted with official Government policy supporting continued membership of the bloc.
The move means Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel, Theresa Villiers, Chris Grayling, John Whittingdale and around 15 junior ministers will be banned from accessing official department papers that support the case for Britain to leave the EU.
They will only be allowed access to official material related to their day-to-day departmental work.
The move was savaged as unfair by “out” campaigners last night.
Tory MP Peter Bone, a leading figure in the Grassroots Go cross-party anti-EU group, said: “This is completely outrageous.
“The truth is we are already seeing a very biased campaign in favour of the in-crowd.
“It is an establishment campaign which is trying to rig the result. They are not interested in having a fair debate, they are interesting in manipulating the system.”
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Vote Leave campaign group, said: “The Civil Service is institutionally pro-EU so it is no surprise that they are trying to make it as difficult as possible for Ministers to campaign to leave.
“Civil servants often use EU law as a way to frustrate ministers from making sensible decisions.
“If we vote to leave we can cut the cost of the Brussels and the cost of Whitehall waste that comes from EU bureaucracy.”
And Ukip MEP Nathan Gill said: “Surely any Government that calls a major referendum in a few months on something of such significant national importance would have had to draw up an impact assessment for either result.
“There absolutely has to be an exit strategy already developed unless the result is to be rigged. To not give the public that information in order that they can make an informed decision on such a huge issue is the greatest insult to democracy.
“People need to know what a post EU would look like, and civil servants will play a primary role in that and therefore hold the information that will elucidate the debate. No doubt at the same time the “In” campaign will demand that Brexiteers outline a post-EU future. It”s a total stitch up.”
Sir Jeremy”s letter also said that special advisers – political appointees who assist ministers – who want to work for a campaign team must seek the Prime Minister”s approval.
If they want to work full-time on a campaign they will have to resign their positions for the duration of the referendum, and their Government salary will be cut to reflect any part-time work for a campaign.
The instructions came after David Cameron suspended the principle of collective responsibility on Saturday to allow ministers to campaign against the Government position of supporting continued UK membership of the EU.
In his letter, Sir Jeremy said: “As set out in the Prime Minister”s letter 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 ministers 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.
“In line with usual practice, departments may check facts for such ministers on request.”