Conservative leadership contender Jeremy Hunt has threatened to cancel all August annual leave across the civil service in order to prepare for a no-deal Brexit.
The foreign secretary would order an “immediate ramping up” of no-deal preparations if he were to become prime minister this month, which he said would require all Whitehall staff to work throughout August.
In a speech at the Policy Exchange think tank yesterday (1 July), Hunt said: “All government departments will be expected to act on the basis that we are leaving without a deal on October 31st. All August leave will be cancelled unless I receive a signed letter from the relevant permanent secretary saying that preparations in his or her department are on time and on track.”
Under the Working Time Regulations, an employer can cancel an employee’s annual leave if it gives at least the same length of notice as the period of leave to be cancelled.
Stephen Moore, a partner law firm Ashfords, said Hunt’s plan to cancel annual leave is not as straight forward as he might hope, “Firstly, he will have to distinguish between booked annual leave and proposed annual leave that has not been agreed, which can be refused at the point the request is made provided it has not yet been approved.”
He said there must be clear business reasons for the decision, “Whether dealing with Brexit is a clear enough reason given the muddle it currently is in is doubtful and could result in claims of constructive dismissal claims on the basis there is a breach of mutual trust and confidence.
“Mr Hunt will therefore have to consider alternative options (i.e. looking at specific Government Departments rather than a wide spread blanket ban).”
Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of the Prospect union – which represents some public sector staff – said Hunt’s threat “smacks of panic and hypocrisy” and suggested politicians should instead focus on getting their own house in order to find a solution to a political issue.
“No peace-time government has ever been as reliant on its civil service as this one, and you’d think the Conservative party would be grateful for its work. Instead Jeremy Hunt wants to cancel all August leave for civil servants with less than a week’s notice, at the same time as MPs are going on a five week recess,” he said.
PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka said civil servants “will not put up with their leave being cancelled”.
“For a potential prime minister to unilaterally declare that leave for civil servants will be cancelled without consulting them or their union is utterly ludicrous,” he said.
“The government’s handling of Brexit has been shambolic and civil servants have stepped up to the plate on numerous occasions and done their best to prepare for all eventualities.”