Mandelson Tells U.K. Pro-`Brexit' Ministers: `Stop Whinging'

  • Cabinet members have complained they aren't seeing documents
  • Britain's top civil servant promises `usual limousine service'

Peter Mandelson, a former U.K. government minister and European Union trade commissioner, said members of David Cameron’s cabinet who are campaigning to leave the EU in a June 23 referendum are lucky to keep their jobs and should stop complaining about their treatment.

Mandelson was weighing into an argument that flared up after Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood told civil servants that it isn’t "appropriate or permissible" for them to brief pro-“Brexit” ministers about the referendum. Conservative figures including the leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling, and Employment Minister Priti Patel have complained about the lack of access to papers. Mandelson, speaking in London Tuesday in favor of remaining in the EU, gave their grievances short shrift.

“Frankly, I think those ministers are lucky,” the former business secretary said, explaining that when he was in government under Labour prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, a dissenting minister would have been given a single piece of paper, firing them. “They get off rather lightly, and they should stop whinging.”

Heywood told the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, a cross-party panel of lawmakers, that the guidance applies only to material ministers could use to “attack the government position” on the vote.

‘Limousine Service’

“All the other material that they need to run their department, to answer parliamentary questions, to handle European business that is not related to the question -- normal EU business -- of course we’ll continue to provide the usual limousine service," said Heywood, Britain’s top civil servant.

Cameron has waived the usual U.K. government requirement of collective responsibility to allow ministers to campaign on both sides ahead of the referendum. But he’s insisted on rules that prevent those pushing for an exit from the EU from seeking assistance from government officials in those campaigns, or seeing papers that relate to the government’s campaign to stay inside.

Other ministers campaigning for a “Brexit” include Justice Secretary Michael Gove, Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Culture Secretary John Whittingdale and Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.

“The only exceptional thing about all this is that the prime minister has very exceptionally allowed a number of ministers to stay in the government even though they oppose the government’s policy,” Heywood said.

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