Clegg slams Smith over ‘implausable’ leak explanation
Jacqui Smith’s claim that she was not told about the arrest of senior Tory Damian Green in advance is “wholly implausible”, Liberal Democrat Leader Nick Clegg has claimed.
Ms Smith, the Home Secretary and MP for Redditch, came under further pressure as Mr Clegg demanded a full House of Commons debate about the arrest of Mr Green last Thursday.
The Conservative immigration spokesman was held for nine hours over alleged leaks of Home Office documents. Counter-terrorism officers led four separate raids on his homes and offices, including his House of Commons office.
Although Tory leader David Cameron and London mayor Boris Johnson were informed about the raids before they took place, Ms Smith has denied she had any advance notice.Instead, police contacted Sir David Normington, the Home Office’s permanent secretary - who says he did not tell the Home Secretary.
Sir David has taken the rare step for a civil servant of issuing a public statement, which said: “Ministers were not involved in the decision to seek police assistance or in the subsequent investigation and were only told of the arrest after it had occurred.”
But Mr Clegg found that hard to accept, saying: “I think the main questions still remain about exactly what was communicated by Sir David Normington to his political masters in the Home Office, or not.“I find it wholly implausible that the Chief Civil Servant in a department which has been at the centre of one controversy after another, almost non-stop for the past two years, should not tell his political masters when he knew they were going to raid the offices and the home of a prominent opposition politician. And if he didn’t, that strikes me as incompetent.”
Mr Clegg claimed that the arrest had threatened Britain’s Parliamentary system. “We would fully support moves to have a debate on this, because a line has been crossed.”
He added: “Using leaks from Whitehall is a perfectly legitimate activity for opposition spokespeople who want to bring information to light. That has now all been put into question by anti-terrorist police turning up on the doorstep of Damian Green.”
The Prime Minister will wait until he knows the “full facts” about the arrest of Mr Green before deciding about any inquiry, Downing Street said.