Gisela Stuart joins the House of Lords as a peer in 2020
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The Opposition leader is understood to have written a letter to Cabinet Office Minister Steve Barclay on the decision for Baroness Gisela Stuart to lead the civil service watchdog. Ms Stuart was named as Boris Johnson’s preferred choice for first civil service commissioner in December.
Heading up the Civil Service Commission, she would be in charge of regulating appointments for senior jobs in Whitehall.
She would also oversee the civil service code, including being in charge of hearing complaints.
But Sir Keir has raised questions about Baroness Stuart’s appropriateness for the role.
According to his letter, seen by HuffPost, he said there were “questions over whether she is in a position to provide advice and oversight that is independent, impartial and objective”.
He specifically mentioned the peer’s role as chair of the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
“She is a former elected politician and chaired a national political campaign,” he wrote.
“She is closely politically connected to the current Government and has campaigned with many of them on important political matters that are still relevant to the challenges faced by departments.
“This means that there are questions over whether she is in a position to provide advice and oversight that is independent, impartial and objective.”
Baroness Stuart was a Labour MP from 1997 to 2017.
She was a health minister in Tony Blair’s government and was also appointed by the then Prime Minister as one of the UK Parliamentary Representatives to the European Convention, which was tasked with drawing up a new constitution for the European Union.
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Sir Keir said despite his reservations, the peer had enjoyed an “admirable career”.
Baroness Stuart became politically close to Mr Johnson in 2016 during the referendum campaign, making regular media appearances alongside him.
The head of the Civil Service Commission is usually held by an independent appointee.
If confirmed to the position, the former MP will be the first politician to hold the role in more than 100 years.
Appearing in front of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee last week, Baroness Stuart defended her suitability for the role to MPs.
SNP MP Ronnie Cowan said the “business of impartiality” would be “incredibly difficult if you have strong views on something”.
He added: “You must find yourself in a position of conflict when you are trying to support Cabinet ministers and the civil service but you have your own particular views about things.”
Responding, the favoured candidate said: “It is perfectly possible and, I think, desirable that, if you have strong views about what should be done—whatever the means of doing it—when there are appointments, it is the function of the civil service and the commissioner to test whether the people who are given a particular task have the skills to fulfil that task.”
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