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Sat, 24 October 2020

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Priti Patel in furious row with Yvette Cooper over attempts to quiz her on Home Office's coronavirus response

Priti Patel in furious row with Yvette Cooper over attempts to quiz her on Home Office's coronavirus response

Priti Patel has hit out at the Home Affairs Committee chair.

4 min read

A furious row has erupted beween Priti Patel and Yvette Cooper over claims the Home Secretary has refused to appear before MPs to be quizzed on her department’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

Ms Patel accused Yvette Cooper of taking an "adversarial" approach by demanding that she appears before the Home Affairs Committee for questioning.

Ms Cooper first wrote to the Home Secretary on 6 March calling on her to appear before the committee, which has already taken evidence from police chiefs and immigration staff about the way the Home Office is handling the crisis.

In a follow-up letter on 20 March she said she had “received no response” from Ms Patel, and said it was “urgent and essential that we hear from you and the Permanent Secreary on the departmental response to and preparations for coronavirus”.

“As the Government has stated: this is the biggest crisis the country has faced in our lifetimes,” she wrote.

“In the face of such serious circumstances, we need to hear from and put questions to Home Office Ministers and senior civil servants about the impact of the pandemic on policing, community cohesion, immigration and security operations. I am sure you will agree that transparency and accountability are crucial in a crisis like this, and the issue is too serious for us to delay.”

A further letter on 3 April made clear that no response from Ms Patel had “yet been forthcoming”, and the committee chair has demanded that the committee be allowed to grill Ms Patel via videolink next week, on 15 April.

Ms Cooper added: “If an alternative time that week is more convenient, we will be as accommodating as possible. However, there is no reason for further delay, and we look forward to seeing you then.”

But the Home Secretary’s reply, sent this week, hit out at Ms Cooper for the string of letters, accusing her of ignoring offers to receive updates from other Home Office ministers and civil servants.

Ms Patel said: “I am disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges and I am very sorry that you have declined my offer of regular briefings with officials and ministers at the Home Office.

“I feel my proposal strikes an important balance between ensuring the department receives that vital scrutiny, while ensuring the committee can receive operationally sensitive, and sometimes classified, updates at this time of national emergency. 

“As I have said to you before, I am absolutely committed to ensuring the Home Office is better open to scrutiny and transparency, but I am conscious of the need to give Home Office members of staff the time and space they need to carry out their essential duty of keeping the British public safe during this national crisis.”

The Home Secretary said she would make herself and her top official “available for a session with the Committee, on our response to Covid-19, towards the end of the month”.

'URGENCY'

However, that suggestion has already been rejected by Ms Cooper, who contrasted Ms Patel’s approach with scrutiny sessions faced by other Cabinet ministers during the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Committee chair replied: “Delaying until the end of the month would clearly be inappropriate given the urgency of the public information and answers that are needed.”

And she said: “We continue to welcome the transparent approach by other ministers including the Justice Secretary, Work and Pensions Secretary, Transport Secretary and Health Secretary who have either given evidence to their select committees already or who have agreed an early date to do so. 

“We welcome the similarly transparent approach of your predecessors who have always agreed to give evidence whenever we have asked them to do so, in recognition that the very purpose of the Select Committee is to seek evidence from the Home Secretary and to scrutinise the work of the Home Office.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: "The Home Secretary has accepted the invitation to appear in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee before the end of April.

"As expected, she is currently leading the Home Office response during this national crisis, working tirelessly to keep the British public safe."

A Tory source told PoliticsHome: "It's a shame Yvette hasn't adopted the collegiate attitude of her new leader - maybe that's why she didn't get a Shadow Cabinet job.

"With a majority as slim as hers, she should probably spend more time speaking to her constituents and less time chasing Guardian headlines."

The row comes after Ms Patel faced scrutiny over her own conduct following the resignation of her most senior official Sir Philip Rutnam.

The senior mandarin quit his post after alleging that he had been the victim of "a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign" by allies of the Home Secretary.

The former permanent secretary said he would be pursuing a constructive dismissal case against the Government, as he accused Ms Patel of failing to "disassociate herself" from attacks on him.

The Cabinet Office has since launched an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Sir Philip’s dramatic exit.

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