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Fri, 27 November 2020

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An Inquiry Found Priti Patel Broke The Ministerial Code But Boris Johnson Will Take No Further Action

An Inquiry Found Priti Patel Broke The Ministerial Code But Boris Johnson Will Take No Further Action
6 min read

An inquiry has found the Home Secretary Priti Patel did bully Whitehall staff, but the Prime Minister decided to take no further action, despite the independent investigator Sir Alex Allan advising that she had not met standards.

As the report was released Sir Alex quit his job, and in a brief statement said it was for the Prime Minister to interpret his findings. Patel has issued an apology for her behaviour.

A government statement in response to the report into the secretary of state’s behaviour, said: “[the] Home Secretary had not always treated her civil servants with the consideration and respect that would be expected, and her approach on occasion has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.”

The statement said Sir Alex had advised that the Home Secretary had not consistently met the high standards expected of her under the Ministerial Code.

Despite no action being taken, Johnson's press secretary Allegra Stratton told reporters: “[The Prime Minister] loathes bullying. He takes it very seriously and recognises that it is very difficult for people to come forward and raise concerns."

She went on: “It’s a brave thing to do. He knows that. He believes this process has been thorough but it is also his responsibility to look at the conclusion in the round. 

“He did say he will not tolerate bullying.” 

It was put to her by journalists that he may just done so, but she replied: “No he hasn’t tolerated bullying. It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.”

Earlier, Johnson asked MPs to ‘form a square around the Pritser’, which his press secretary said was intended to “recognise that today she’s coming forward with a full and frank apology that she is sorry for her behaviour in the past, upsetting people, and she wanted her parliamentary colleagues to support her in acknowledging that this is a testing day for her.”

She also pointed to the last paragraph of Sir Alex’s findings in which he said the issue needed to be seen in context and that she was not given any feedback at the time or aware people felt upset.

In his written conclusions, the independent adviser added that Ms Patel's frustration over a lack of responsiveness from staff had led to her "shouting and swearing" at officials.

"The evidence is that this has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing," he wrote.

"This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals."

However the government also highlighted that Sir Alex’s advice found that the “Home Secretary had become – justifiably in many instances – frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness and the lack of support she felt in DFID [Department for International Development] three years ago.”

“The Prime Minister notes Sir Alex’s advice that many of the concerns now raised were not raised at the time and that the Home Secretary was unaware of the impact that she had.

“He is reassured that the Home Secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working,” the statement said.

The Prime Minister’s judgement is that the Ministerial Code was not breached.

The government statement continued: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary and considers this matter now closed. He is grateful to the thousands of civil servants working extremely hard to support delivery of the government’s priorities.”

Sir Alex said: “I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code.”

Responding to the report, Ms Patel said she was "sorry" that her behaviour had "upset people".

"I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone. I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the government's agenda," she said.

"I care deeply about delivering on the commitments we have made to the people of this country and I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated.

"I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support. The Permanent Secretary and I are working closely together to deliver on the vital job the Home Office has to do for the country."

A Cabinet Office probe into allegations of bullying was launched in March after Sir Philip Rutnam, the former top civil servant at the Home Office, quit his role and accused the Home Secretary of launching a "vicious and orchestrated campaign" against him.

In a statement published in February by the civil servant's union, The FDA, Sir Philip said he had left his role with "great regret" after he alleged Ms Patel was to blame for accusations that he had briefed the media against her.

"The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office.

"I regret I do not believe her. She has not made the effort I would expect to dissociate herself from the comments."

The cabinet minister also faced further complaints of mistreating staff relating to her time as a minister in the Department for International Development and at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Ms Patel has denied the claims, with allies saying that while she was "demanding" of civil servants she had never bullied staff.

Responding to the report, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, said: "Yet again, the Prime Minister has been found wanting when his leadership has been tested. If I were Prime Minister, the Home Secretary would have been removed from her job.

"It is hard to imagine another workplace in the UK where this behaviour would be condoned by those at the top. The government should be setting an example. Instead, it is one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends, another for everyone else.

He added: "The Prime Minister has previously said he 'loathes bullying'. Yet when one of his own ministers is found to have bullied their staff he ignores the damning report sat on his desk and instead protects them.

"In the interest of transparency, the report into Priti Patel’s conduct and any drafts should now be fully published and the Prime Minister and Home Secretary should come to the House on Monday to face questions on their conduct."

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