Post had been condemned by the department’s top civil servant
The Home Office has deleted a tweet attacking “activist lawyers” after it was condemned by the department’s top civil servant.
Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the under-fire ministry, said in response to a complaint that “the phrase… should not have been used on an official government channel”. The tweet has now been taken down.
— Sonia L (@SoniaL77) August 27, 2020
Rycroft added: “I have made clear to the team this post should not be used again from Home Office accounts or anywhere else by civil servants.”
But others in the Home Office doubled down on the lawyer-bashing language. A “Whitehall source” told the Times (£) that Home Secretary Priti Patel — Rycroft’s boss — “was familiar with the language used and did not think that it was wrong”.
And another source went even further, complaining to the paper about “a bunch of particularly loudmouthed lawyers and barristers who seem to spend more time on social media than representing their clients”.
Guys! Guys! We triggered Dom!
(From today’s Times) pic.twitter.com/UK9Xayqwuw
— The Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret) August 28, 2020
Rycroft’s intervention came in response to a complaint about the tweet by the economist and former civil servant Jonathan Portes, who called it “a very clear breach” of government comms rules. The condemnation by the department’s top man appears to have caught more junior colleagues on the hop, with the Home Office going from defending the comment to referring journalists to Portes’s tweet reporting his conversation with Rycroft.
Hi Jonathan, unbelievably the Home Office is now “directing” journalists’ enquiries regarding the original tweet to your tweet above, rather than issuing a refreshed formal response. Anything else you can share from the perm sec’s response?
— Jamie Grierson (@JamieGrierson) August 27, 2020
The tweet had been roundly condemned by the legal establishment as an attack on the rule of law.
We condemn a Home Office video referring to immigration lawyers who provide legal advice to migrants as ‘activist lawyers’.
Solicitors advise their clients on *their rights under the laws created by parliament*
— The Law Society (@TheLawSociety) August 27, 2020
The Home Office Twitter account has caused controversy before for its politicised output. It often replies directly to NGOs critical of its policies to accuse them of “misleading” the public.
Rycroft is relatively new to the Home Office, having taken over from Philip Rutnam after the latter’s spectacular falling out with Home Secretary Patel (coming soon to an employment tribunal near you).