New Cabinet Office rules ban speakers who have criticised government policy

Guest speakers at the Cabinet Office will have their social media accounts vetted to check whether they have ever criticised government policy before they can take part in events, according to new rules.

The Cabinet Office policy applies to outsiders coming into the department to take part in “learning and development” events. Managers are being urged to carefully check the backgrounds of such guests, including by trawling through up to five years of posts, according to an article in the Financial Times.

The report quoted allies of Cabinet Office minister Jacob Rees-Mogg as saying the due diligence policy, which took effect this week, was “very sensible” and should be implemented straight away, since “there have been far too many examples recently where essentially extremist speakers have been invited to speak to civil servants and staff networks”.

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, criticised the new rules for providing “a draconian excuse to block critics of government policy from even setting foot in Whitehall buildings”.

She added: “Instead of seeking to silence entirely legitimate criticism of their litany of failures, ministers could do with listening to experts a little more and burying their heads in the sand a little less. By listening they might learn something about addressing the dysfunction that has set in at the heart of this Conservative government.”

The vetting, which the Cabinet Office defends on impartiality grounds, includes trawling through between three and five years of posts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn to search for “potentially problematic or controversial material that may contravene civil service values”, including criticism of government officials or policy, strong political views and “behaviour that might bring the civil service into disrepute”.

The Cabinet Office said the policy had been “introduced to ensure there is a proper process for inviting speakers to talk to civil servants in the Cabinet Office, as the public rightly expects”.

“We take a zero tolerance approach to discriminatory behaviour and this process will help prevent anyone with a history of such comments from being invited,” it added.

The Guardian