Theresa May's 'mishandled' row and the Ministerial Code

If the Home Secretary's conduct is not properly investigated, Labour says the PM risks being accused of a cover-up

David Cameron risks a “cover-up” in his handling of the political row between two of his senior cabinet ministers, Labour claims today.

Michael Dugher, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, has asked the Prime Minister to order a full independent investigation into the conduct of the Home Secretary, Theresa May, arguing that there is “clear evidence” that she may have broken the Ministerial Code.

Mr Cameron ordered a quick review by Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet Secretary, into the row between Mrs May and Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, over their response to the “Trojan horse” comments over Islamic extremism in Birmingham schools. Following the review earlier this month, Mrs May’s special adviser, Fiona Cunningham, was forced to resign for releasing a letter from the Home Secretary criticising Mr Gove, while the Education Secretary was told to apologise to the PM and an intelligence official, Charles Farr.

Mr Dugher, in a letter to the PM seen by The IoS, claims there is enough evidence to warrant a full investigation by the independent adviser on ministers’ conduct, Sir Alex Allan. The Labour MP says Mrs May appeared to be in breach of section 2.1 of the Ministerial Code, which states that “the privacy of opinions expressed in Cabinet and Ministerial Committees, including in correspondence, should be maintained”. Furthermore, Mr Dugher says, section 3.3 states that “the responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the minister who made the appointment”.

Mr Dugher tells Mr Cameron: “You appear to have decided that the recent behaviour of the Education and Home Secretaries does not merit investigation by the Independent Adviser on Ministers’ Interests. This is surprising and concerning given that this indulgent row exposes two ministers more preoccupied with personal political point-scoring than a policy area which goes to the heart of our national security. The Home Secretary has been evasive throughout this row and now your response is bordering contemptuous of the gravity of the issues at hand.

“The Home Secretary’s office was responsible for the leaking of private ministerial correspondence and her special adviser at the centre of the row has been forced to resign. Despite this, we have had no detail from you or your office about how or why you have made your decision.”

Mr Cameron must state if he has “conclusively decided that the Home Secretary did not break the Ministerial Code, and on what grounds in light of the evidence above”, Mr Dugher adds. “Without full release of the review and disclosure of how you reached your decision, this will be considered a cover-up.”

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