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Wednesday, 18 October, 2000, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
PM 'sent civil servant to sack Robinson'

Geoffrey Robinson has been touring the studios in support of his memoirs
A failed attempt by the prime minister to sack him from the Treasury by sending a senior civil servant to do the job was the central claim of the latest extract of ex-minister Geoffrey Robinson's memoirs.

Day three of the newspaper serialisation of the former paymaster general's book moved the spotlight from Peter Mandelson - to whom Mr Robinson imfamously lent 373,000 - to Tony Blair's bid to be rid of the controversy-dogged minister.

Mr Robinson related how in the summer of 1998 Cabinet Secretary Sir Richard Wilson, the country's top civil servant, came to the Treasury to ask him to resign.

Sir Richard Wilson: The civil servant sent to do a prime minister's job, according to Robinson
The millionaire MP's financial dealings were once again under close media scrutiny, causing unwelcome headlines for the government.

A magazine article made claims about his business links to the disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell, posthumously revealed as a swindler.

Mr Robinson insisted the claims were "fantastic lies". He provided Chancellor Gordon Brown - his ally and political protector - with a point by point rebuttal.

Downing Street had asked Mr Robinson to see Mr Blair at the prime minister's Commons office. The meeting never took place, though, because Mr Brown "killed" it.

Sir Richard's visit to Mr Robinson in his Treasury office came soon after.

'More dignified to resign'

According to Mr Robinson, the civil servant went first to Mr Brown and asked for Mr Robinson's resignation "to avoid any further awkwardness".

When Mr Brown asked why resignation was necessary, Sir Richard cited the embarrassing, and continuing, press coverage surrounding Mr Robinson - who was by this stage a liability in media terms.

When he went to see Mr Robinson himself, Sir Richard raised the Maxwell link and the magazine article.

Asked whether they were the grounds for him leaving the government, Sir Richard replied: "Yes. And it is rather more dignified to resign than to be sacked."

'PM should do it'

The claim that Mr Blair sent a civil servant to deliver a resign-or-be-sacked ultimatum to a minister is a remarkable one, and bound to lead to renewed criticism that in office New Labour has seriously blurred the line between government and the supposedly neutral civil service.

In his memoirs Mr Robinson said he was bemused by Sir Richard's intervention: "If he had been asked to do it by someone in authority over him, he should have refused.

"If he volunteered, as I am reliably informed he did, it was an act of hubris. Either way, it was a manner of proceeding I could not accept...

"When a senior minister is to be sacked, the prime minister must do it, and not allow a civil servant to presume in this way."

Mr Robinson went on to relate how at a later meeting, Mr Blair himself suggested that he leave the government.

But the meeting was inconclusive, and Mr Robinson's actual resignation came only in the wake of the Mandelson home loan scandal months later.

Downing Street declined to comment on Mr Robinson's latest revelations.

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Blair seeks to calm Robinson 'froth'
17 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Mandelson claims he is plot victim
17 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Robinson sparks euro row
16 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Mandelson 'misleading' on loan
11 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Books reveal cabinet warfare
10 Sep 00 | UK Politics
Blair and Brown 'constantly at odds'
16 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Calls for home loan inquiry
16 Oct 00 | UK Politics
Robinson portrays divided government
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