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Mon, 19 October 2020

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Exclusive: The Shadow Home Secretary Says It's "Disgraceful" The Priti Patel Bullying Investigation Hasn't Been Published

Exclusive: The Shadow Home Secretary Says It's 'Disgraceful' The Priti Patel Bullying Investigation Hasn't Been Published
4 min read

Labour's Nick Thomas-Symonds has expressed concern the government has "something to hide" as the findings of an inquiry into the home secretary's behaviour are still to be released after seven months.

An investigation into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel began in March after a blistering resignation speech from former home office senior civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam. He claimed on live TV he had been the target of a "vicious" briefing campaign and that Patel had failed to engage with him.  

Around the same time it also emerged that civil servants had also accused her of bullying behaviour while she worked as International Development Secretary from 2016 to 2017, and during her time at the Department for Work and Pensions.

She has denied all the allegations. 

In an interview with The House Magazine, Thomas-Symonds said the length of time it has taken to release the findings of the Cabinet Office investigation sets an "appalling example" for workplaces. 

"I think it’s disgraceful it hasn’t appeared, frankly," he said. "If you were in any workplace in the country and there were allegations around bullying, they should be treated sensitively and seriously and you’d expect them to be dealt with properly.

"If it's ready, it should be published.

"It worries me there’s something to hide in it, that’s why they’ve taken so long."

Speaking ahead of his first significant speech to Labour members at this year's digital party conference, Labour Connected, Thomas-Symonds said the conclusion of the report should not be held over. 

"No other workplace in the country would put up with this. So why should the government set this appalling example?" he said.

Internal Cabinet Office reports into whether ministers have breached the ministerial code through their behaviour are not made public or published in full, however a summary of key findings might be released. 

The investigation into former first secretary Damian Green which found he has lied about pornographic images being found on his House of Commons computer was concluded in two months. 

There is not thought to be an official time limit on when an investigation must conclude, Over the summer the Financial Times reported that it had been completed, but that the timing of releasing it was difficult for government because of the Covid crisis. 

On the investigation into Patel, a government spokesperson said: "The process is ongoing."

There is also a lack of uncertainty around who is now leading the investigation. There were reports in July that Helen MacNamara, the civil servant in charge of the inquiry, would soon be moving to become permanent secretary at a Whitehall department. 

Asked if MacNamara was still in charge, a spokeperson for the Cabinet Office said they had nothing to add. 

Thomas-Symonds also took aim at the home secretary's alleged support for Royal Navy boats being considered for use in the English Channel to curb migrant crossings, describing it as evidence of a continued "hostile environment" from the home office. 

Patel was reported to have looked into Navy involvement after a record number of people travelled from France to Kent this summer. Thomas-Symonds said the proposal lacked compassion but was also not realistic as it would require permission from France for journeys into French waters.

“Anyone making a suggestion of using Royal Navy to push back dingies, it’s clearly a hostile thing to do,” Thomas-Symonds said. 

 "The attempt to militarize the humanitarian crisis was completely wrong.

"Voters want to see things that work. There aren’t any international waters in the channel, to even say this is a realistic proposition.

"It was a very poor suggestion. I’m sure that no home secretary should be putting things forward that are completely unrealistic."

Around 3600 people made the journey from France to the UK this year in small boats, with 400 making the crossing in one day in early September. 

A government source said it was not been suggested at any point to send Navy ships into French waters and it is not something Patel has said. Military involvement so far has included surveillance such as using drones to locate dangerous small boats so that rescues can happen quicker, they said.

They also suggested it was offensive to military personnel that Thomas-Symonds has assumed their involvement in the channel could not be humanitarian in nature. 

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The military has a long history of humanitarian operations across the globe. Defence aerial surveillance assets are supporting existing Border Force operations in the Channel and military planning and tactics specialists are supporting the Clandestine Channel Threat Commander with expert advice. This does not signal any change in our operations.”

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