Labour has demanded the government “roots out any miscreants” involved in reported claims by senior civil servants which called into question Jeremy Corbyn’s health.
Downing Street condemned reported claims by senior civil servants that Mr Corbyn is “too frail” to be prime minister as “inappropriate and unacceptable”.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill would be writing to the Labour leader after the party demanded an inquiry into the alleged breach of Civil Service neutrality.
The Times reported at the weekend that it had been told by two senior civil servants that Mr Corbyn, 70, may have to stand down due to health issues. The report drew a furious response from Labour, which denounced the comments as a “scurrilous” attempt to undermine the party’s efforts to gain power.
Mr Corbyn said the remarks were “tittle tattle” and warned the Civil Service had a duty to be non-political.
In response, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Impartiality is one of the fundamental values of the Civil Service and underpins its ability to effectively serve the government of the day. It would clearly be inappropriate and unacceptable for comments of this sort to have been made or briefed to the press. The Cabinet Secretary will be writing to the leader of the Opposition shortly.”
Shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett, raising a point of order in the Commons, said Mr Corbyn’s fitness is “legendary” before criticising the “undemocratic and unconstitutional intervention” attributed to senior civil servants.
He told Speaker John Bercow: “The professionalism and objectivity of our public servants has been admired throughout the world and it’s a cornerstone of our democracy.
“But there must be no hesitation at all to condemn the kind of behaviour reported. I would hope the government roots out any miscreants who have behaved in this way.”
Mr Bercow said the “sacred” principle of civil service impartiality was of the “utmost importance”, and he hoped it would be upheld by governments indefinitely.
Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd intervened to add: “We have complete confidence in the fairness and the independence of the civil service, and they have said they will respond and I frankly question the good judgment of the shadow minister for bringing it up in the House at this stage before they have had the chance to do so.”
Mr Bercow added: “The leader of the opposition looks perfectly healthy to me. I’ve known him a long time. He’s a very healthy-living fellow in my experience.”
Meanwhile, Momentum campaigners have launched a bid to unseat Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson at the next general election. Labour halved Mr Johnson’s majority in Uxbridge and South Ruislip to 5,034 votes in 2017.
“He’s neglected his constituents and concerned himself only with his own career,” Labour candidate Ali Milani said. “Bragging about ‘sticking up for bankers’ in his bid to become Tory leader might go down well with party members, but the people of Uxbridge and South Ruislip are less than impressed.”