Tories press Brown to get rid of Whelan

 

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gordon Brown, came under increasing pressure yesterday to order the immediate resignation of his press secretary, Mr Charlie Whelan, as the government faces another hurdle in its attempts to end the difficulties of the past weeks. With the Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, on an official visit to South Africa, the Tories matched the government's "business as usual" line yesterday with a determination to force Mr Whelan's immediate removal, insisting it was "totally inappropriate" that he should have access to sensitive Treasury documents which are being prepared before the Chancellor's budget statement in March. In his resignation statement on Monday, Mr Whelan indicated he would remain at his desk "until an appropriate opportunity becomes available".

However, in a letter to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, the Tory party chairman, Mr Michael Ancram, insisted that Mr Whelan should be barred from working on the Treasury's preparations for the budget.

As Mr Brown's special adviser, Mr Whelan has in-depth knowledge of the government's budget plans, including taxation, and Mr Ancram insisted he should be subject to an automatic quarantine of three months before taking up a new position. According to the rules governing the employment contracts of special advisers, which are written in the Civil Service Management Code, Mr Whelan could be forced to seek official approval for any new job in the private sector.

Official sanction is required if duties "have involved developing policy, knowledge of which might be of benefit to the prospective employer". The code states that senior civil servants could order Mr Whelan to wait up to two years before taking up a position to ensure any information he takes with him is deemed out of date. Alternatively, they could impose conditions on employment banning him from involvement with Treasury-related subjects. The Chancellor also came under pressure from the Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary, Mr David Heathcoat-Amory, who insisted Mr Brown had serious questions to answer about why Mr Whelan had not left his post immediately.

The Chancellor was "mysteriously absent now that there is explaining to do", he said, while Mr Whelan appeared to be timing his resignation to suit his own job prospects. He added: "Since it is now admitted that he is not doing his job properly he should be dismissed immediately and given no more privileged access to budget planning."

Mr Peter Kilfoyle, the Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office, said he expected Mr Whelan's departure would happen "sooner rather than later" and he was confident that Mr Whelan would conform to the conditions of his contract. The Permanent Secretary at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office would, he added, fully consider any "extra circumstances" which might inhibit Mr Whelan's present and future employment.

Mr Brown and the former Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Peter Mandelson, were today reported to have held a secret meeting in a fresh attempt to bury their differences. They met yesterday on the orders of Mr Blair according to the Daily Mail.