Tories accuse Simon Case of left-wing bias over Covid rules

The Simon Case – Hannah McKay/Reuters

A senior British civil servant has been accused of a left-wing bias by senior Tories after he dismissed concerns about Covid rules as “pure Conservative ideology”.

Simon Case faces questions about his political impartiality and behavior during the pandemic, after the outbreak leaked WhatsApp messages obtained by The Telegraph.

On Saturday, Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, was forced to say that Mr Case, who is cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, had retained his “confidence”.

Mr Case’s comment that Sir Alok Sharma, then the business secretary, opposed forcing restaurants to keep customer data because of “pure conservative ideology”they led to claims that he overstepped the bounds of civil service impartiality.

At the time, Mr Case was the Downing Street Permanent Secretary in charge of the civil service response to Covid.

At various times during the pandemic he appeared to side with Matt Hancock against other government ministers, including Mr Sunak, the then chancellor, who on one occasion described as “crazy” due to the policy according to which catering establishments should keep customer data for the purpose of contact tracing. Mr Case added that Sir Alok would be “mad” to oppose it.

Elsewhere, leaked messages show that he is joked about passengers being “closed” in “shoebox” rooms in quarantine hotels.

Mr Case’s criticism comes as the civil service faces increased scrutiny over its impartiality, following top mandarin Sue Gray’s decision to leave Whitehall and to accept the job of chief of staff to Sir Keir Starmer.

Esther McVey, a former cabinet minister, led the criticism of Mr Case’s behaviour, saying: “This is the most senior civil servant in the country letting the cat out of the bag by suggesting that one of the most centrist Conservative MPs was looking for a ‘pure’ Conservative ideology’ only because it leads to the question of some of the quarantine rules.

“Putting aside the fact that this is a Conservative government and what he would expect from its ministers, if Mr Case thinks that Alok Sharma has followed such a hardline Conservative ideology, it can only mean that he is yet another senior civil servant on the left wing of British politics .”

‘They enjoyed taking control of people’s lives’

She was joined by fellow former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg who said the messages revealed there was a desire by Mr Hancock and Whitehall officials to “lock us up and keep us locked up”.

“They seem to have enjoyed taking control of people’s lives,” he said, adding that messages between Mr Case and Mr Hancock showed they were “criticizing the chancellor and anyone who was not in favor [of stricter measures]then they tried to marginalize them”.

Meanwhile, several business leaders have expressed dismay at Mr. Case, accusing him of pursuing a political agenda at the expense of the economy.

A third former cabinet minister said Case’s language was “inappropriate”, adding that civil servants “are not there to make judgments about people’s motivations”. It only undermines the people who were democratically elected. They should be impartial, professional and objective”.

And a fourth said: “Sue Gray is clearly not the only party civil servant who dislikes the Conservatives. She confirmed what many thought – that the civil service is hostile to the Tory party. And that [Simon Case’s messages] it just underlines it.”

‘It’s not about ideology’

Jill Rutter, a former director of the Treasury Department, said she was surprised by the “unnecessary callousness” of Case’s remarks.

“I wonder who Case thinks he’s working for?” she said. “Does he think that he is there as a neutral mediator in order to attract to all the ministers a position that they can accept? Or does he know what the prime minister wants and help him achieve that outcome? Or is he just trying to achieve Matt Hancock’s goals?”

A number of other backbench Conservatives questioned Mr Case’s comments. Marcus Fysh, MP for Yeovil, said it was “surprising” to see a civil servant “speak in those terms”.

There were huge consequences decisions that were made, we live with some economically to this day, and with some we live with health to this day”, he said. “It’s not about ideology.”

The Tory described his comment about “pure Conservative ideology” as “very strange”. They added: “It’s a very strange thing to say to a Conservative government minister other than anything else, isn’t it?”

The corporate world is reacting

Mr Case’s messages also drew harsh words from the corporate world. Sir Rocco Forte, one of Britain’s most famous hoteliers, said: “We have effectively given up being ruled by bureaucrats in Brussels… in exchange for being ruled by our own bureaucrats.”

Luke Johnson, former head of Pizza Express and current president of Gail’s Bakery, said: “I think it’s been confirmed that most of their actions were more politically motivated than scientifically based.”

The lock-in files put further pressure on Mr Case after a series of tough news.

He has faced questions about his apparent role in cleaning up a controversial £800,000 loan to Boris Johnson while he was prime minister and has also been criticized over the partygate scandal.

A friend of Mr Case told The Telegraph: “I’m sure he will be embarrassed by these remarks, but it is important to remember that they were made in the heat of the moment, in the middle of a national crisis, in response to a cabinet minister, and do not represent the whole of the policy-making process in to which Simon was central.

“Here we are talking about casual language used in a casual environment.”

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