Home Secretary Amber Rudd has slapped down Tory backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg over his astounding claim Treasury officials were “fiddling the figures”.
Rudd said she was “surprised” that the Brexiteer backbencher “used that language” and said his attack on UK civil servants was “wrong”.
The Theresa May ally also dismissed reports of a Brexiteer coup when she appeared on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday.
Rees-Mogg has said he is “suspicious” of how Treasury officials operate, and that their economic models, which show the UK will be worse off in every Brexit scenario bar remaining in the Customs Union, amounted to “fiddling the figures” in favour of Remain.
Rudd came out in defence of civil servants, saying they had her “complete confidence”, before adding: “I’m very surprised at Jacob because he is famously courteous, famously thoughtful, famously articulate so I’m very surprised that he has used that language.
“They are wrong, he is wrong here.”
She also responded to criticism of Brexit minister Steve Baker, who last week aired a false claim in the House of Commons about a thinktank’s boss claiming Treasury officials were pro-Remain.
Rudd said: “I think that Steve Baker has had an interesting week this week, when he also, over the whole debate about what was said when, was gracious enough to issue an apology.
“We all use forecasts. It doesn’t mean we put all the weight people might expect on them.
“We have to approach them with a certain amount of cynicism but they help inform the debate and the decisions we make.”
Asked about reports in the Sunday newspapers on a plot to topple May, Rudd was strident.
“I have surprise for the Brexiteers which is the [Cabinet] sub committee that meets in order to help make these decisions is more united than they think,” she told Marr.
“We meet in the committee. We meet privately for discussions. I think that we will arrive at something which suits us all.
“There will be choices to be made within that but we all want the same thing which is to arrive at a deal which works for the UK.”
One report said that Rudd would become Chancellor in a Government led by Boris Johnson.
Replying to whether Rudd could serve under Johnson, she said: “That is such a difficult question on so many different levels, I’m going to pass.”
Marr then moved on to ask whether May was minded to push for “a customs union” arrangement with the EU post-Brexit.
Rudd said: “She has an open mind on it. We published a document last year saying how we would do it and we proposed either a customs arrangement or a customs partnership. Those are both alternatives we could look at.”
Former speeches on Brexit made by the PM were put to Rudd, and she said: “I think what she is highlighting there is we do not want to have tariffs at the border so that is a form of customs agreement, arrangement, partnership.”
She added: “It is likely to have something within the customs framework, but I don’t want to be drawn on whether it’s a customs union or the customs union.”
Marr then challenged Rudd on why she was reluctant to say the term “customs union” and if she was intimidated by the Brexiteers in her party, who, according to the Sunday papers threaten to trigger a challenge over the issue.
The Home Secretary replied: “We’re not intimidated. I’m not intimidated at all, Andrew.”
Lord O’Donnell, the former head of the UK Civil Service, has also intervened to defend civil servants.
Speaking on the ITV’s Peston on Sunday, he said: “If you take a civil servant and you were to cut them in half, and let’s face it there are a lot of MPs out there who would love to do this, you would get us like a stick of rock, the honesty, objectivity, integrity, impartiality - that’s the point.
“We look at the evidence and go where it is now. Not if you’re selling snake oil and don’t like experts testing your product.
“That’s why we’ve got this backlash against evidence and experts is because they know where the experts will go.”