UK’s top civil servant and head of MI6 urged to quit Garrick Club | Civil service

The UK’s top civil servant and the head of MI6 have been urged to quit the Garrick Club amid criticism that their membership of an organisation that has repeatedly blocked women from joining showed poor leadership and judgment.

Simon Case, who as cabinet secretary is the leader of half a million civil servants, was also condemned for arguing he had only joined the London gentleman’s club in an attempt to overturn its all-male policy.

Case and Richard Moore, head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), are part of a series of politicians, lawyers and other establishment figures whose membership of the Garrick was revealed by the Guardian, the first time its all-male list has been made public.

Case joined in 2019, a move that one former permanent secretary – a civil servant who leads an individual department – told the Guardian was “a poor signal in terms of leadership” of the civil service.

Jill Rutter, another former senior civil servant who has since worked on expert reports about government, said clubs like the Garrick were “clearly discriminatory”, adding: “I always hope that some government might make membership of a club like this a disqualification for a public appointment.”

A day after his Garrick membership was revealed, Case insisted to a parliamentary committee that he had joined with honourable motives.

At a subcommittee of the cross-party liaison committee of senior MPs, former Labour minister Liam Byrne asked Case how he could “foster a genuine culture of inclusiveness” while also being a Garrick member.

Case replied: “I have to say today my position on this one is clear, which is that if you believe profoundly in reform of an institution, by and large it’s easier to do if you join it to make the change from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside.”

His joining the Garrick added to the number of members seeking change, he said, adding: “I’m very sure I speak on behalf of all the public servants who have recently joined the Garrick under the banner of trying to make reform happen.”

The Conservative MP Robert Buckland was one of six men sitting at the liaison committee hearing – there was one woman – and said “hear hear” to Case’s comments, before declaring an interest by revealing that he too was a member of the Garrick.

Hannah White, director of the Institute for Government thinktank, which works with MPs and senior civil servants to make government more effective, said she was not convinced.

“Simon Case’s professed selfless motive for joining the Garrick will sound bizarre to the 284,000 women of the civil service who it would bar from membership, when they weigh the relative benefit he has gained for himself in his five years of membership against the lack of progress he has apparently achieved on their behalf,” she said.

More widely, White said, she was shocked to see Case and Moore on the list: “It sends a terrible signal to senior women in the civil service, and indeed more junior people in the civil service, looking up at senior leadership, for them to be members of a club like this while also theoretically being subscribed to all sorts of schemes to promote equality and diversity.

“They are supposed to be the figureheads who are leading schemes to promote equality in the civil service to ensure that there is diversity throughout the civil service.”

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Prof Rosie Campbell, director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College London, said Case’s decision to join was “staggering beyond belief” and that he should resign from the club.

Case’s argument that he joined to make reform more likely was “just unfathomable”, she said.

“He needs to publicly apologise and say this was a massive misjudgment, and that he is genuinely sorry for the really significant error of judgment,” she said. “I would love to know if he would join a group that excludes specific ethnic groups to ‘change it from the inside’.”

Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats’ deputy leader, said: “Members of the Garrick Club should set out what steps they intend to take to open up the club to women and achieve the reform they say they want to see.”

White also called for Case to quit the club: “I guess he probably hoped that his membership wouldn’t ever be a matter of public record, so perhaps he thought the symbolism wasn’t something he had to consider.

“I do think the signals senior leaders send are tremendously important. I can just imagine layers of women within the civil service and MI6 looking at these names and wondering: ‘What are the conversations that are going on there, which I can never be party to?’”

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