Priti Patel bully storm as Boris Johnson overrules verdict that Home Secretary broke code

Published: 20 November 2020

Post Desk : Boris Johnson was hit with a furious backlash today after refusing to sack “bully” the Home Secretary.

Priti Patel apologised for her “behaviour” after being accused of bullying civil servants.

But in a bombshell minutes later, Sir Alex Allan, the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, quit.

Sir Alex had concluded that Ms Patel breached the ministerial code and had bullied civil servants. But he was overruled by the Prime Minister.

In a terse statement shortly before midday, Sir Alex said: “I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgment 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.”

In a series of damning findings, Sir Alex concluded: “My advice is that the Home Secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

“Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals. To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally.

“There is no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time… which meant she was unaware of issues that she could otherwise have addressed.

“The Home Secretary has also 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 evidence is that this has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing. This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.”

Sir Alex’s departure, unprecedented in Whitehall, left Mr Johnson facing accusations that the Government’s response was condoning bullying.

A Government statement said Mr Johnson has “full confidence” in Ms Patel and “considers this matter now closed”.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman added: “The Prime Minister took advice from his independent adviser Sir Alex Allan and as you’ve also seen the Home Secretary has this morning apologised and I would point you towards that apology.

“The PM is reassured the Home Secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working with but ultimately as the arbiter of the ministerial code, weighing up all the factors, the Prime Minister doesn’t believe there is a breach.”

He also said the Prime Minister “wholeheartedly” was “against bullying”.

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that Ms Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments.

It followed the resignation of her permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, who is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.

In a statement today, Ms Patel said: “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.

“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.”

Mr Johnson was criticised by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who said: “It is hard to imagine another workplace in the UK where this behaviour would be condoned by those at the top.”

Dave Penman, head of the FDA union for senior civil servants, told BBC News: “What message does it send … that if you want to raise a complaint against a minister about their behaviour the outcome of that will depend on the politics that’s happening at the time.”

Top mandarin Matthew Rycroft said: “Sir Alex Allan’s findings make difficult reading, including for the Civil Service.

Ministers normally resign for breaking the ministerial code. Ms Patel was sacked as International Development Secretary by Theresa May for unauthorised meetings with Israeli ministers in 2017.

Ms Patel has expressed concern at the “false” claims, and allies have described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.