Investigation launched into Priti Patel bullying allegations
2 March 2020, 15:44 | Updated: 2 March 2020, 15:59
An investigation is being launched into allegations of bullying made against Home Secretary Priti Patel.
She was accused of orchestrating a "vicious" campaign against Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam and creating a climate of fear in her department.
The Home Office's top civil servant quit saying he was resigning to "protect the health, safety and wellbeing" of the 35,000 staff in his department following the accusations of bullying.
On Monday, responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Michael Gove told MPs that the Cabinet Office has launched an inquiry.
He also said Ms Patel "absolutely rejects" any allegation of bullying.
Mr Gove said: "Allegations have been made that the Home Secretary has breached the ministerial code. The Home Secretary absolutely rejects these allegations.
"The Prime Minister has expressed his full confidence in her and having worked closely with the Home Secretary over a number of years, I have the highest regard for her - she is a superb minister doing a great job.
"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.
"As is usual, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, is available to provide advice to the Prime Minister."
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked the Cabinet Office to "establish the facts" of the case, and the investigation will be led by Alex Allan, his independent adviser on ministerial standards.
Downing Street said it took allegations of bullying seriously but would not comment on the claims made by Sir Rutnam following his decision to quit after rows with Ms Patel.
The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Government treats any such allegation seriously."
But the spokesman added that Sir Philip was taking legal action and therefore he would not comment further.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said if the "serious allegations" raised by the permanent secretary at the Home Office are true "then that would clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code".
He added: "Why, without a proper investigation, has the Prime Minister defended the Home Secretary calling her fantastic and saying he absolutely has confidence in her?
"It's not enough just to refer this to the Cabinet Office, the Government must now call in an external lawyer as quite rightly suggested by the union for senior civil servants, the First Division Association.
"A minister in breach of the ministerial code cannot remain in office and should be dismissed."
Mr Corbyn said: "Isn't the truth that this is a Government led by bullies, presided over by a part-time Prime Minister who not only can't be bothered to turn up but simply won't take the vital action required when the very integrity and credibility of the Government is on the line."
On Sunday, the Prime Minister said he "absolutely" had full confidence in Ms Patel following the allegations.
He told reporters during a visit to Public Health England in North London: "I absolutely do have confidence in Priti Patel.
"I think she is a fantastic Home Secretary.
"It is never an easy job, as anyone who has been Home Secretary will testify. It is one of the toughest jobs in Government.
"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.
"That will take a lot of work by the Home Office, a fantastic department."
Mr Johnson said: "I want to make one thing absolutely clear.
"I am full of admiration for our civil service and the job that they do.
"We politicians could not begin to accomplish things without the fantastic, absolutely brilliant alpha minds in the civil service.
"We depend on them."
Sir Philip's resignation also led to calls from opposition MPs and the senior public servants' trade union for the Prime Minister to put a stop to what they claim is a campaign by his chief adviser Dominic Cummings to undermine the civil service.
It comes two weeks after Sajid Javid quit as Chancellor when the PM ordered him to fire his team of aides.