Downing Street denies Cabinet rift over suggested rainbow lanyards ban

Downing Street denied that a Cabinet rift has opened up over a ban on civil servants wearing rainbow lanyards suggested by the so-called “common sense” minister.

Esther McVey on Monday announced a crackdown on “inappropriate backdoor politicisation” in Whitehall, saying officials should be leaving their political views “at the building entrance”.

Ms McVey, who attends Cabinet as a minister without portfolio, said civil servants should wear “standard design” lanyards – appearing to indicate that the colourway used to express support for LGBTQ+ issues should not be used.

But Number 10 suggested she had been merely been giving an illustrative example and that civil service guidance set to be published on Tuesday would be “more broad” and “not proscriptive”.

“It’s not going to be proscriptive in that sense. It will be an update on impartiality and how civil servants would be expected to behave to ensure that they are impartial and protected from politicisation – obviously the minister gave an example of that in her speech,” the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said.

Asked whether Ms McVey had simply “overcooked” her speech with a reference to measures that will not specifically appear in the guidance, the spokesman said: “No, I think the speech was bringing to life the issues she has been working on.”

The Number 10 official indicated the guidance would likely be published on Tuesday afternoon and that he was “not aware” of any recent changes having been made to it.

In a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies think tank on Monday, Ms McVey had said: “Working in the Civil Service is all about leaving your political views at the building entrance, and trying to introduce them by the back door via lanyards should not happen.”

Defence Secretary Grant Shapps distanced himself from the remarks on Tuesday’s morning broadcast round, telling Times Radio: “Personally, I don’t mind people expressing their views on these things.

“It doesn’t, you know, what lanyard somebody wears, doesn’t particularly concern me.

“But I do think, and this is where I think Esther McVey has a point that what we want is our civil servants to be getting on with the main job. And the main job is to serve the department they work for, in my case, defence, but across Whitehall.”

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