Members of the British National Party (BNP) and other far-right groups would be banned from working in the civil service, under radical plans being considered by the government.
Personnel Today has learned that high-level discussions involving Sir John Gieve, permanent secretary at the Home Office, and other senior civil servants have taken place to discuss the move.
Currently, the prison service and the police are the only public sector employers that ban staff from being members of far-right groups.
It is understood that Gieve wants identical policies to apply across Home Office agencies and the wider civil service. But senior colleagues are yet to be convinced as to whether such a policy should be adopted.
Whitehall unions would welcome any move. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which has 290,000 members in the civil service, said it believed members of far-right parties should be banned as their values contradict the aims and values of the service.
However, Michael Ball, employment partner at law firm Halliwells, sounded a note of caution, and said the government would need to address certain legal questions.
“If someone is a member of a recognised, legal political party, such as the BNP, then simply taking action against an employee would be difficult to justify,” he said. “However, an employer could use ‘some other substantial reason’ as a defence to any employment tribunal claims.”
In this case an employer would have to prove that an individual’s party membership was disrupting their ability to work or causing a breakdown in the working relationship between themselves and the employee, Ball said.
There is a legal precedent for this. Last month, an appeals tribunal upheld a ruling that a bus driver was lawfully dismissed for being a member of the BNP.
Arthur Redfearn had claimed racial discrimination when he was sacked after West Yorkshire Transport Service found out he was standing for election to Bradford Council as a BNP candidate.
But in the civil service, employees are protected by the Human Rights Act and legal experts believe far right groups may use the law as a means of direct action and increased publicity in cases where workers are dismissed for their political beliefs.
A Home Office spokesperson confirmed that a potential ban is under consideration by Gieve, but said that no decision had yet been taken.