The moles – Labour-sympathising civil servants – are believed to have played a key role in triggering the lobbying scandal which has allowed Sir Keir’s party to construct a narrative of ‘Tory sleaze’ by leaking details of David Cameron‘s contacts with Ministers and officials.
They are also suspected of using leaks to try to ‘sabotage’ the Brexit withdrawal negotiations last year, and to provide advance notice to the Labour leader about Government policies in the pipeline – giving him time to structure his responses.
Tory spy-hunters believe a ‘cell’ of Labour supporters was activated last year after Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former senior adviser in No 10 (pictured together in September 2019), declared that a ‘hard rain’ was coming for the Civil Service
The Tory spy-hunters believe a ‘cell’ of Labour supporters, centred on the Cabinet Office, was activated last year after Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former senior adviser in No 10, declared that a ‘hard rain’ was coming for the Civil Service as part of planned reforms to break up Whitehall’s grip on the establishment.
Mr Cummings is a long-standing critic of the Whitehall establishment, describing the permanent Civil Service as ‘an idea for the history books’ and proposing the abolition of senior civil servants’ roles.
Soon after entering Downing Street in 2019, he became embroiled in a power struggle with Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, which eventually led to Sir Mark being replaced by the Duke of Cambridge’s former private secretary, Simon Case.
Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara also left, along with two other departmental permanent secretaries reportedly on a Cummings ‘hit list’ – Sir Philip Rutnam at the Home Office and Sir Simon McDonald at the Foreign Office.
These Whitehall wars were being fought as the story broke about Mr Cummings’ infamous 260-mile trip from London to his parents’ home in Durham during lockdown, leading some sources to speculate at the time that ‘dark forces’ had been behind the exposé.
Disruptive leaks from inside No 10 soon started appearing in sympathetic media outlets – such as the revelation in the Financial Times last September that the Government was planning legislation which would breach international law by letting the UK unilaterally rewrite parts of the Brexit departure agreement.
A network of Labour Party ‘spies’ is operating at the heart of Whitehall, feeding secret information to Sir Keir Starmer’s (pictured) team to destabilise the Government
The story wrought havoc with Downing Street’s negotiation strategy just as the Brexit talks were entering a critical stage.
Mr Cummings was himself ousted from No 10 later in the year amid the fallout from an internal power struggle with the Prime Minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds; but by then, ‘the well had been poisoned’, according to one source.
The revelations about Mr Cameron – that during his time as Prime Minister, he appointed Greensill Capital founder Lex Greensill as an unpaid adviser and that after leaving office, Mr Cameron was employed by the company and lobbied Ministers for access to Government-backed loans – has mushroomed into a much wider scandal which has shone a light back on to the Civil Service’s own murky practices.
Informed sources say this is not an accident. Tory officials caught up in the row are out for revenge on the civil servants they believe have been undermining them.
In addition to texting Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s private phone, it was revealed that just hours after Greensill’s bid for emergency loans was rejected, Mr Cameron sent a message to No 10 adviser Sheridan Westlake, telling him the decision was ‘nuts’.
It is understood Mr Cameron first tried to lobby Mr Westlake by phone. Aware of the unconventional nature of the approach, Mr Westlake told him to put his points in writing and send it to his official No 10 email address.
Mr Westlake then forwarded the email to civil servants in No 10 and the Treasury – which is where the leak is thought to have come from.
Within days of the contents of the email being revealed last week, Lord Pickles, who vets Ministers and mandarins’ new jobs as chairman of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), revealed that Bill Crothers, a senior civil servant, had been allowed to work for Greensill Capital without being vetted.
The revelations about David Cameron (pictured) has mushroomed into a much wider scandal which has shone a light back on to the Civil Service’s own murky practices
Lord Pickles said he was ‘very worried’ by conflicts of interest in Whitehall. Mr Westlake is a former special adviser to Lord Pickles from the Acoba chairman’s time as a Cabinet Minister, and the two men have been close political allies for more than a decade.
Last night, a senior Tory source said: ‘It is very unusual for civil servants to leak material directly to the media, but it is less unusual for them to pass it to political parties.
‘They can then disseminate it in order to cause maximum damage. ‘Labour also seem to know a lot about what is being discussed inside No 10 on issues such as vaccine passports before we have announced anything.
‘But the lobbying row could end up consuming civil servants as well. What Pickles did looked a lot like revenge.’
There are now a total of seven inquiries into the fallout from the lobbying scandal, including a lawyer-led probe ordered by Mr Johnson, a Whitehall review by Mr Case, and a review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Mr Case is also yet to reveal the conclusions of his investigation – launched six months ago – into the identity of the ‘chatty rat’ who effectively bounced the Prime Minister into announcing the second lockdown in November by releasing details of a meeting attended by just four Cabinet Ministers.
Mr Cameron’s lobbying activities were yesterday revealed to have extended to the German Government, with the former PM making representations to the German ambassador in November on behalf of a Greensill subsidiary and pushing its case to win a contract from the German civil service.
With Mr Cameron said to be ‘pretty depressed’ about the damage caused to his reputation, a source close to the former Prime Minister said he was preparing for a fightback.
The source said: ‘There are a lot of misrepresentations he is keen to clear up: he was not employed as a lobbyist by Greensill, and he only did so because of the fraught economic situation and the proposals for small businesses, which he thought had merit.’