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Fri, 5 June 2020

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Top mandarin says Priti Patel row a 'distraction' as he orders officials to stop media leaks

Top mandarin says Priti Patel row a 'distraction' as he orders officials to stop media leaks
3 min read

Britain's top civil servant has described a major Whitehall row with Priti Patel as a "distraction", as he ordered an end to "unattributable" media briefings by government officials.


In a rare intervention, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told all civil servants that reports of a bust-up between the Home Secretary and her officials risked overshadowing the "vital work" done by the Government.

And he demanded a return to "private" conservations between ministers, special advisers and civil servants after a furious week of briefing and counter-briefing about Ms Patel's running of the  Home Office.

It comes after Boris Johnson said he had "full confidence" in Ms Patel amid claims she had been cut out of intelligence briefings and after the Home Secretary denied suggestions she had bullied officials.

An ally of Ms Patel had said she was "absolutely livid" at the anonymous briefings and had ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate the "false allegations" against her.

In a strongly-worded message sent to the civil service on Monday afternoon, Sir Mark said: "You will have seen recent stories of tensions within Whitehall, sparked by unattributable briefings and leaks to the media. This besmirches this country's hard-won reputation for good governance and is a distraction from the vital work of the thousands of civil servants delivering the Government's agenda and the public services on which our citizens rely."

He added: "Candour, confidentiality and courtesy between Ministers, special advisers and civil servants are crucial to the trust and confident on which good governance depends. Civil servants should at all times be confident they can give the honest, impartial and objective advice on which Ministers can rely. Both should be confident that this advice, and any debate that surrounds it, will remain private and that everyone will at all times adhered to the high standards set out in the Civil Service, Special Adviser and Ministerial Codes.

"I know that the whole Civil Service is committed to delivering the Government's agenda and to our enduring work to protect and promote the interests of our citizens, communities and country."

It is unusual for the Cabinet Secretary, who also acts as the head of the civil service, to publicly comment on media stories, and the intervention from Sir Mark follows a joint-statement from Ms Patel and her most senior official, Sir Philip Rutnam, aimed at defusing the claims.

It has been reported that Ms Patel has sought to oust Mr Rutnam from his post.

But a Home Office spokesman said: "The Home Secretary and Permanent Secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.

"They are focused on delivering on the Home Office's hugely important agenda, which includes creating an immigration system that works for the UK, putting more police on the streets and keeping the public safe from terrorism."

In a show of support for the embattled Home Secretary, a spokesperson for Boris Johnson said: "The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary and the vital work that she is doing to make our streets safer and take back control of the UK's borders."

Meanwhile, in another unusual intervention, a security service source also spoke out, saying the reports were "simply untrue" and against the public interest.