What happened? Damian Green was arrested yesterday and his Kent and House of Commons offices searched by nine counter-intelligence officers. Mr Green spent nine hours in custody but has not been charged. He was apparently under investigation for handling four leaks of Home Office information on matters relating to the Government’s record on immigration.
Why? The authorities may have wanted to frighten Mr Green. They may have wanted to frighten all civil servants and MPs and stop the increasing regularity of leaks from Whitehall.
Mr Green has the Tory leadership’s support: David Cameron is standing by Mr Green and is "very angry" at what some Tories are describing as "Stalinesque" behaviour by the authorities. "Stalinesque" might be thought to imply suspicion of Gordon Brown’s involvement but his office were very quick to deny involvement. As Greg Hands has noted, however, it was a typical Brownian denial – not absolving him comprehensively from involvement.
When did ministers know? This is now one of the most important questions. Even if Brown didn’t know when did the Home Secretary know? Given that Boris Johnson and others received prior warnings – but were unable to act – it seems very unlikely that a Home Office Minister (who did have the power to stop the police and may have even had to sanction what happened) did not have prior knowledge. Such is the reputation of this Government, few are likely to believe ministers’ denials anyway. If Jacqui Smith did know she should resign.
Why were counter-terrorism powers used? This seems to be yet another example of their misuse. As David Davis told Today, this had nothing to do with terrorism and comes close to "judicial intimidation".
MPs will be outraged at the police searching one of their colleague’s offices: There is something worryingly undemocratic about the police entering an
MP’s Commons office and undertaking a search. There is probably no
coincidence in the fact that parliament wasn’t sitting yesterday. As
Iain Dale noted in a superb post, if MPs had been sitting many might have "physically barred" the police’s way.
Many, many MPs receive leaks: As the BBC’s Norman Smith told Today listeners at about 6.30am if every MP who had been passed confidential information was arrested the Commons would be half-empty. Jim Naughtie himself noted that Brown made his early reputation by receiving numerous leaked documents from inside Whitehall. There’s extraordinary hypocrisy here – not least from a Government that couldn’t/ wouldn’t keep its own Pre-Budget Report secret over last weekend.
This is another PR disaster for the Government: It’s not just the BBC that is incredulous. The Daily Mail leads with the story and as the beneficiary of some of the leaks is going to be very sympathetic to Mr Green. There are few areas of Labour’s record that exhibit more incompetence that its record on immigration. The public are unlikely to have sympathy with attempts to hide, for example, the fact that 5,000 illegal workers were cleared for security details. That story is reportedly one of Damian Green’s leaks and a very clear example of whistleblowing in the public interest.
Britain is not Zimbabwe: Yesterday’s events were deeply worrying but Britain is not Zimbabwe and we must be careful about suggesting otherwise. To do so risks insulting the suffering of women like Memory. As Robert H Halfon has previously blogged: We must not trivialise real evil.