Jacob Rees-Mogg warns civil servants he will sell their offices if they don't stop working from home

Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg wants to end the practice of civil servants working from home and has sparked debate with his tactics. Credit: PA

Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned civil servants he will sell off their office space if they do not use it, in a threat which doubles down on his criticism of working from home.

The Cabinet minister sparked an online debate after encouraging a return to the office by leaving notes in empty Whitehall workspaces with the message: "I look forward to seeing you in the office very soon."

Asked whether the notes were meant to scare people back to the office, Mr Rees-Mogg said: "No, no, no – I have a number of responsibilities, one of them is the government property agency.

"We have very expensive property in London, it is there to be used. If people aren't using it - they don't need grade one London office space - they can be elsewhere.

"And so people either need to be coming in to work or the office space can be reallocated to people who will use it."

He confirmed that could mean government office being sold, adding: "We don't need expensive space in London if civil servants aren't using it."

The Cabinet minister told ITV News that he could see links between senior figures working from home and problems being experienced within some departments and agencies, arguing "people lead by example”.

He urged his Cabinet colleagues earlier this week to issue a clear message to staff about a "rapid return to the office".

Downing Street earlier this week said Prime Minister Boris Johnson supported Mr Rees-Mogg's efforts to promote a return to the office.

"What the minister is seeking to achieve is to do everything possible to get the civil service to return to the pre-pandemic level," the PM's official spokesperson said.

"That is what he is seeking to do. That is supported by the Cabinet secretary and obviously the prime minister."

Asked if the notes left on desks by Mr Rees-Mogg were helpful, the spokesperson said Mr Johnson "supports any initiative that encourages people to return to pre-pandemic working. "We are not talking about putting an end to flexible working, which continues to have a place in the modern workplace, we are talking about returning to pre-pandemic use of taxpayer-funded departmental buildings."

The Brexit opportunities minister also suggested that female colleagues who claimed that an MP openly watched porn in the House of Commons chamber should report him directly to be investigated, calling the allegations "appalling".

He said the Independent Complaints and Grievances Scheme - set up when he was leader of the House - was meant to deal with suggestions like this.

But when it was pointed out that they would only take up a case if a witness came forward - he said: "Surely there will be a complaint - if what one has heard is true it is so extraordinary that you would expect a complaint to come through."