Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel as ‘fantastic’ home secretary amid allegations of bullying against her; govt launches inquiry into accusations

UK prime minister Boris Johnson said Priti Patel is a 'fantastic' home secretary as he backed his senior Cabinet minister amid a row over the resignation of her top civil official, while the government announced an internal inquiry into the issue.

Press Trust of India March 02, 2020 23:58:51 IST
Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel as ‘fantastic’ home secretary amid allegations of bullying against her; govt launches inquiry into accusations
  • Philip Rutnam, the Home Office's most senior official, resigned on Saturday citing a 'vicious and orchestrated' campaign against him

  • The independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, will be conducting the inquiry into the accusations against Patel

  • 'I think she is a fantastic home secretary. Anybody who has been home secretary will testify that it is one of the toughest jobs in the government,' Johnson said

London: UK prime minister Boris Johnson said Priti Patel is a "fantastic" home secretary as he backed his senior Cabinet minister amid a row over the resignation of her top civil official, while the government announced an internal inquiry into the issue.

Philip Rutnam, the Home Office's most senior official, resigned on Saturday citing a "vicious and orchestrated" campaign against him.

In response to an Opposition question over the issue in the House of Commons on Monday, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the usual process under the UK's ministerial code has been triggered to "establish the facts".

"This government always takes any complaints relating to the ministerial code seriously, and in line with the process set out in the ministerial code the Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to establish the facts," Gove told Parliament on behalf of Johnson.

Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel as fantastic home secretary amid allegations of bullying against her govt launches inquiry into accusations

A file image of British-Indian politician Priti Patel. Reuters

The independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, will be conducting the inquiry.

Johnson was asked about the controversy and allegations of bullying against the Indian-origin minister by Rutnam, her former permanent secretary, during a visit to Public Health England in north London on Sunday evening to address the rising fears around the spread of the coronavirus in Britain.

"Absolutely," he said, when asked if he had confidence in Patel, 47.

"I think she is a fantastic home secretary. Anybody who has been home secretary will testify that it is one of the toughest jobs in the government," the prime minister said.

In the context of what is being pegged as a clash between politicians and the civil service, Johnson also expressed his "admiration" for the country's civil servants, whom he described as "brilliant alpha minds".

"There is a big, big task ahead of us now. We are delivering, at last, a new immigration system for this country, a points-based immigration system," he said in reference to the new visa regime unveiled by Patel last month.

Johnson's intervention came following the explosive resignation of Rutnam from the UK Home Office over the weekend. While Patel herself is yet to comment on the matter, one of her cabinet colleagues, Health Secretary Matt Hancock, spoke out in her defence on Sunday.

"Priti is a very determined person but she is also very courteous," he said.

Patel has not made any public comment since Philip announced his resignation, the BBC reported.

Meanwhile, the Opposition Labour Party has demanded that Patel address Parliament on the allegations of bullying against her.

"The home secretary has a duty to come to Parliament on Monday to explain the allegations made about her own conduct," said Kier Starmer, the frontrunner in the ongoing Labour Party leadership contest to replace Jeremy Corbyn.

The minister also faces the prospect of an inquiry, following Rutnam's decision to sue the government over his alleged forced exit, and Starmer called for the head of the UK civil service, Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, to start "an immediate investigation" into the circumstances surrounding his departure.

"There are now urgent questions that must be answered and steps that need to be taken," he said.

Rutnam announced his resignation in an emotional television statement as he claimed a "vicious and orchestrated campaign" against him and pointed the finger of blame at Patel.

"The home secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her," said Rutnam, who has said he intended to go to court with "very strong grounds" to claim a constructive, unfair dismissal.

Rutnam also referred to the tensions with Patel when he encouraged her to change her behaviour.

"I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands, behaviour that created fear and needed some bravery to call out," he claimed.

The First Division Association union, which represents senior civil servants, has called on Cabinet Secretary Sedwill to launch an "independent" inquiry into Patel's behaviour.

The union's general secretary David Penman said a probe should be led by an external lawyer, with access to ministers' and special advisers' communication records.

Updated Date:

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