Why is everybody making such a fuss about Matt Hancock carrying out government business on the sly via his private email account now? Tory ministers have been doing this habitually since 2011.
There can only be one reason for it, too – and that is to avoid proper and lawful scrutiny of activities that they know are not acceptable behaviour for government ministers.
Michael Gove was caught using private emails to communicate with Department for Education personnel, all the way back in 2011.
Financial Times journalist Chris Cook established that Gove and some of his special advisers (or Spads) had been using private email accounts to conduct business which appeared to many (eventually including the Information Commissioner) to be Government business. It was suggested that this had been done to avoid potential disclosure of the emails through FOI.
Did Gove receive any punishment for this? No.
Liam Fox’s personal email account was hacked by Russians in 2019 when, as International Trade Secretary, he was responsible for negotiating a trade deal with the United States.
The hackers lifted 450 pages of classified information from the account, prompting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party to ask why Fox had been using an unsecured personal email address to carry out government business.
Has there ever been an answer to this question? No.
There have been attempts to justify the use of private emails – Tory MP Tom Tugendhat claimed in 2016 that he had received private advice from GCHQ, the government communications centre in Cheltenham, that a Gmail account would be more secure against hacking than the government’s own system.
It’s possible that he was telling the truth – after all, it has been claimed that GCHQ routinely monitors MPs’ private email accounts in any event. Alarmingly, it seems the US National Security Agency is also privy to any information gathered during these sweeps. Why?
And now we have information showing that Matt Hancock, Lord Bethell, Helen Whately and PM Boris Johnson himself have all misused their personal email accounts in order to hide business they have done as members of the government from lawful scrutiny.
You may have heard misinformation claiming that ministers are allowed to conduct some business by private email, depending on the seriousness of the matters concerned and the level of security to be applied.
This Writer heard a mealy-mouthed Tory apologist making such claims on Radio 4’s PM on June 28. They are not true.
Cabinet Office guidance clearly states that “The originator or recipient of a
communication should consider whether the information contained in it is substantive discussions or decisions generated in the course of conducting Government business and, if so, take steps to ensure the relevant information is accessible (e.g. by copying it to a government email address)”.
There is no opt-out. Any and all emails in which government business is carried out must at least be copied into the government’s email system and any failure to do so is a breach of the rules.
Sadly, the guidance note does not describe any sanctions that could be used against government ministers or officers for misuse of private email accounts to carry out government business in secret. This is a common omission that makes the rules themselves a dead letter; worthless.
In other words, while it is entirely possible that Hancock, Johnson and all the others have been corruptly hiding dirty Tory deals for more than a decade, there isn’t a damned thing that can be done to stop them.
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