7 November 2011

British constitutional theory about the relationship between senior officials and their Ministers seems to be in the process of being rewritten. Allegations this weekend are of the Whitehall machine again thwarting Ministers’ expectations relating to the management of immigration and border controls.

This comes on top of claims last month of moves to “tighten a department’s grip on Ministers”, requiring Ministers to have an official with them whenever discussing substantive policy issues with external organisations. Where some saw the Cabinet Secretary’s recommendations in the “Fox Report” about the former Defence Secretary as constraining Ministers, the moves now against some senior officers may be a reaction.

The announcement that the director of the UK Border Force (described by “Home Office sources” as a “rogue civil servant”) could be sacked without a pay-off by the end of this week and may face action for malfeasance in a public office, may be interpreted as a a strike back Ministers.

The Home Secretary is to make an emergency statement to Parliament today following her suspension of the director and two other civil servants, having been advised that passport and anti-terrorism checks at airports had been watered down – apparently without Ministers’ consent.