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UPDATE: Complaint re Home Office press release of 21 March 2021
6 May 2021
In a letter dated 16 April 2021, the Home Office’s Direct Communications Unit (DCU) responded to our complaint. You can find their letter here.
We were not satisfied with their response. Regrettably, it failed to engage with the specific details of our complaint in any particular.
Notwithstanding the fact that our letter bore the subject header ‘COMPLAINT ABOUT CONTENTS OF PRESS RELEASE’ in capital letters and bold font, the DCU seems to have treated it as a mere enquiry. In essence, they sought to assure us that:
- All press materials go through appropriate clearance and are drafted in line with the Civil Service Code.
- The Government’s position that the asylum system is broken and open to abuse is supported by evidence, including published statistics and Home Office analysis.
- The content and language in the press release is based on the New Plan for Immigration, which draws on published, quality assured Home Office data as well as expert insight from experienced officials.
The DCU sought to justify the press release by claiming that it followed the Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance that the role of government communications staff is to present, describe and justify the thinking behind the policies of ministers and be ready to promote the policies of the department and the Government as a whole.
As regards their assurances:
- Our complaint was not about the DCU’s system for clearing press releases in general. It concerned one specific press release, which we believed had not been drafted in line with the Civil Service Code and thus ought not to have been cleared for publication by the Home Office. The bland assertion that it had been through appropriate clearance and did comply did not address the details of our complaint but sidestepped them.
- Our complaint was not directed at ‘the Government’s position that the asylum system is broken and open to abuse’. Our complaint focussed upon (i) the assertion that there had been an alarming rise in abuse of the system for dealing with modern slavery and (ii) the attempt to smear ‘failed’ asylum seekers by association with child rapists, people who pose a threat to our national security and serious criminals. The Government’s position about the effectiveness of the asylum system is irrelevant to the complaint.
- Vague references to ‘published, quality assured Home Office data as well as expert insight from experienced officials’ do not justify the explicit reliance in the press release on data which do not support the allegations and slurs contained in it, nor do they identify which data in particular is purported to support them. The alleged ‘expert insight from experienced officials’ is nothing more than opinion from people whose claimed expertise is neither particularised nor evidenced.
As for the Government Communication Service Propriety Guidance, while it does uncontroversially provide that the role of government communications staff is to present, describe and justify the thinking behind the policies of ministers and be ready to promote the policies of the department and the Government as a whole, it does so subject to constraints which aim to protect both the neutrality of the Civil Service and the public trust in it, by ensuring that the public can have confidence in the factual content of Civil Service publications. Our complaint explained why and how we believed the press release had fallen short of these standards.
We have therefore replied to the Home Office DCU, asking for our complaint to be escalated to a ‘more senior member of staff’ in line with its published complaints procedure. You can find a copy of that letter here.
 https://gcs.civilservice.gov.uk/publications/propriety-guidance/Back to News