Tory ministers spend shocking period of time bickering about rainbow lanyards

Confusion reigns in the Cabinet after Rishi Sunak’s so-called Minister for Common Sense went on a rant about officials wearing rainbow lanyards.

According to Esther McVey, civil servants who attach a colourful lanyard to their work passes should be disciplined. But not everyone in Cabinet agrees, with Defence Secretary Grant Shapps distancing himself from the comments. And official guidance is not expected to include any reference to lanyards despite Ms McVey’s impassioned remarks.

Ministers have been mocked after Ms McVey claimed the rainbow design, worn to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, undermines the civil service. In an exchange with a journalist on Monday she said it was “promoting political activism in a visible way”.

The Tory – brought into the Cabinet in an undefined ‘common sense’ role by Rishi Sunak last year – said: “For every lanyard that you show, you’re therefore not saying about the things you do or don’t agree with. So you’re promoting one at the exclusion of all the things you’re making. And hence I asked the question: Why would you be wearing it? It is making a statement. You’re putting it on to make a statement.”

Esther McVey claims rainbow lanyards are divisive

Esther McVey claims rainbow lanyards are divisive

Ms McVey branded them a “distraction” and said officials shouldn’t “impose your views on anyone”. Asked if there should be consequences of wearing rainbow lanyards, she said this would be for permanent secretaries – who lead Whitehall departments – to decide.

Lib Dem Layla Moran posted on X: “Thank goodness we have a minister looking at issues like these. What with the state of the economy, the NHS, housing, homelessness, crime I was worried that the vital issue of lanyard colour was being forgotten. Bravo Sunak’s Tories. Nailed it”

Despite Ms McVey’s rant, Mr Shapps told Times Radio: “Personally, I don’t mind people expressing their views on these things. What lanyard somebody wears doesn’t particularly concern me.” The Defence Secretary said he was “more interested in the jobs that the civil service do” than what they wore.

It comes as Ms McVey demands a crackdown to stop officials spending public money on diversity consultants, alongside a review of civil service staff networks.

Former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale also voiced her disagreement with Ms McVey, telling Times Radio: “To wear a lanyard like this, it’s not a political sign … it’s a welcome sign, it’s about saying to people there are other people like you here and you’re welcome.”

She said banning them is “like taking a welcome sign out of a window”. No10 denied Ms McVey “overcooked” her speech promising a crackdown on Civil Service lanyards – even though it won’t appear in updated Government guidance.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman indicated he was “not aware” of any changes to it made in recent days. He said: “It’s not going to be proscriptive in that sense. It will be an update on impartiality and how civil servants would be expected to behave to ensure that they are impartial and protected from politicisation – obviously the minister gave an example of that in her speech.”