Theresa May has refused to sack a minister who suggested that Whitehall civil servants were working to undermine Brexit.
The Prime Minister rebuked Brexit Minister Steve Baker for his remarks, stating he would have to apologise to Parliament in line with the ministerial code requiring an early correction.
In an extraordinary exchange in the Commons on Thursday, Baker had said it was “essentially correct” that Treasury officials had tried to sabotage Brexit by skewing analyses to suggest the economy would suffer under every scenario other than remaining in the Customs Union.
He was forced to apologise later on Twitter, and the Prime Minister – speaking on a trip to China- gave him her backing.
Asked by Channel 5 News if she would fire him, she replied: “No. The ministerial code says that the minister should take the earliest opportunity to amend the record that has given to Parliament and apologise to Parliament. He will do that.
“What I understand the minister did was to reflect what he thought somebody else had said at a meeting. He has now recalled that was not right, he is going to apologise, he is going to ensure that the record in Hansard is correct so that Parliament is not misled when that record is read in the future.
“That’s what the ministerial code asks him to do and that is what he will be doing.”
Backbencher Jacob Rees-Mogg, a hardline Brexiteer, had sparked the row when he pressed the minister about claims made by Charles Grant, of the Centre For European Reform think-tank.
Baker had said he was “sorry to say” Rees-Mogg’s account was “essentially correct”.
“At the time I considered it implausible, because my direct experience is that civil servants are extraordinarily careful to uphold the impartiality of the Civil Service,” he added.
“I think we must proceed with great caution in this matter, but I have heard him raise this issue. I think that we need to be very careful not to take this forward in in an inappropriate way.”
But Grant himself later issued a statement saying he had not told Baker this, and a video of an event where the minister had heard Grant making comments later emerged, proving as much.
The Liberal Democrats accused Baker of “fanning the flames of conspiracy theories”.