Boris Johnson stands alongside Home Secretary Priti Patel, despite a long-awaited official investigation finding that he violated ministerial code by intimidating public officials.
But the prime minister’s response, who found that the ministerial code had not been violated, collided with the findings of Whitehall’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan, prompting his resignation on Friday.
A Whitehall report concluded that she “had not always met the high standards” required by ministers, with instances meeting the definition of bullying, but that her actions may have been “unintentional.” Following the findings, Patel apologized, saying: “I am sorry that my behavior in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause anyone discomfort. “
The prime minister, who claimed in a foreword he wrote to the ministerial code last summer that “there must be no intimidation” and is the sole arbiter of the rules, tried to draw a line on the matter amid pressure on him to fire Patel.
A government statement released on Friday said: “The Prime Minister takes note of Sir Alex’s advice that many of the concerns now raised were not raised at the time and that the Home Secretary was not aware of the impact it had.
“He assures him that the Home Secretary regrets that he inadvertently disturbed those with whom he was working. He also assures her that relationships, practices and culture at the Home Office have improved a lot. As arbiter of the code, having considered Sir Alex’s advice and weighing all factors, the prime minister’s judgment is that the ministerial code was not violated. “
“The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Secretary of the Interior and considers that this matter is now closed. It thanks the thousands of officials who work hard to support the fulfillment of the government’s priorities ”.
Allan said: “I recognize that it is up to the prime minister to pass judgment on whether the actions of a minister amount to a violation of the ministerial code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign my position as an independent adviser to the prime minister on the code. “
The bullying investigation began in March, prompted by allegations that Patel looked down on his colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments. It also followed the extraordinary resignation of the highest-ranking Interior Ministry official, who announced his intention to sue the government for constructive dismissal after what he called a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign against him.
Downing Street has not released the full Cabinet Office investigation. But an assessment of the investigation findings by Allan, said to have been on the prime minister’s desk for two months, said: “My advice is that the home secretary has not consistently met the high standards required. by the ministerial code to treat it. public servants with consideration and respect. Their approach has at times turned into behavior that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.
“To that extent, his behavior has been a violation of the ministerial code, even if not intentional. This conclusion must be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behavior and no feedback was given at that time. The high pressure and demands of the post, in the Home Office, coupled with the need for more supportive leadership from the top of the department has clearly been a contributing factor. In particular, I notice the finding of a different and more positive behavior since these problems were raised “
The ministerial code states: “Ministers must be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come in contact with consideration and respect. Working relationships, including with civil servants, ministerial and parliamentary colleagues, and parliamentary staff must be adequate and appropriate. Harassment, intimidation or other inappropriate or discriminatory behavior wherever it occurs is not consistent with the ministerial code and will not be tolerated. “
Patel said: “I am sorry that my behavior in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to upset anyone. I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of public officials who help fulfill the government’s agenda.
“I am deeply concerned about the fulfillment of the commitments that we have made with the people of this country and I recognize that I am direct and that at times I have felt frustrated.
“I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support. The permanent secretary and I are working closely together to fulfill the vital work that the Home Office has to do for the country. “
Permanent Home Office Secretary Matthew Rycroft added: “Sir Alex Allan’s findings make reading difficult, even for the civil service. The Home Secretary and I are committed to working together to improve the Home Office and build the strongest possible partnership between ministers and officials based on support, openness, assurance to challenge, mutual respect, and professionalism. Relations between ministers and officials have improved considerably ”.
In February, the permanent secretary of the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, resigned. In a painful resignation statement broadcast to a television camera, he said: “In the last 10 days, I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated information campaign. It has been alleged that I informed the media against the Secretary of the Interior.
“This, along with many other claims, is completely false. The Secretary of the Interior categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I’m sorry I don’t believe you. She has not made the efforts she would expect to disassociate herself from the comments. “
Claim constructive dismissal in a labor court. Patel has raised concerns about the “false” claims, and her allies describe her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.
On Friday before the report was released, Labor shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said suggestions that Johnson would not fire Patel showed “all the hallmarks of a coverup of the prime minister.”
Several Conservative MPs supported Patel before Allan’s findings were published. “I think she is doing an excellent job and is an excellent home secretary and she really does deliver on the things that people care about,” health secretary Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Friday. “In all the dealings I have had with her, she has been nothing but courteous.”
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