Downing St discomfort over Harman comments

By Alex Stevenson

Harriet Harman’s claim that ex-RBS boss Sir Fred Goodwin will be forced to give up his £693,000 pension is causing No 10 problems this morning.

The leader of the House and Cabinet minister told BBC1’s Andrew Marr programme yesterday that Sir Fred “should not count” on keeping his pension and that the government would definitely prevent him from keeping it.

“It may be enforceable in a court of law, this contract, but it is not enforceable in the court of public opinion. And that is where the government steps in,” she said.

That position appeared to contrast with the one taken by Downing Street, which has refused to confirm it will ensure Sir Fred loses his pension.

“We are exploring the legal options open to us. That means. looking at his employment contract and whether the RBS board made the decision in full knowledge of all the facts,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.

Lawyers at UK Financial Investments (UKFI), the body controlling the government’s 70 per cent stake in RBS, have been asked to examine the position.

It is not yet clear whether they will be successful, despite Ms Harman’s assurance yesterday that Downing Street would stop at nothing to deny Sir Fred his pension.

Ms Harman added yesterday: “The prime minister has said that it is not acceptable, and therefore it will not be accepted.”

Downing Street said today: “There is a lot of public anger about this. that is shared by the government. [But] obviously we are bound by the law. We have to operate within the framework of the law.”

If UKFI’s lawyers struggle to find a case against Sir Fred the government has the ultimate option of legislating, retrospectively, against the RBS contract.

Downing Street is currently keeping that measure off the table, but if the storm over the issue continues strategists may begin to consider its viability.