An investigation into reports of bullying by Home Secretary Priti Patel was launched nine months ago. It was triggered by the resignation of Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, who alleged that Ms Patel “created fear” among staff. One senior member of Home Office staff reportedly collapsed after a “heated” encounter with her, while one official in the Department for Work and Pensions alleged Patel had bullied her during her time as employment minister. The latter employee received a payment of £25,000. Patel has adamantly denied any accusations of bullying, while allies claim she is simply a “demanding boss.”
The report is expected to be published imminently, and has been conducted by the government’s independent adviser on standards, Sir Alex Allan. One source claimed the report had found “the home secretary had not met the requirements of the ministerial code to treat civil servants with consideration and respect.” Multiple sources confirmed there to be evidence of bullying.
A breach of ministerial code would mean that Patel had failed to meet expected behavioural standards, including demonstrating “consideration and respect” for colleagues. Explicitly, the code condemns: “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour.” The code is not legally binding, and the prime minister retains ultimate power to decide whether or not cabinet members should remain in office. Ministers who break the code are generally expected to resign, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson is “unlikely” to push this. Rather, the PM may issue Patel with a warning, and she may be asked to apologise.
According to Sky News, some of Patel’s supporters are uncomfortable with the issuing of an apology, as her behaviour was accidental. There are also claims that Patel herself was mistreated by other members of staff.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has expressed his concerns: “Reports that the Home Secretary is to receive a written warning for conduct in government are incredibly serious.” He notes that Patel’s role comes with “huge levels of responsibility and trust,” so is calling for the report to be published immediately, to ensure the public can have “full confidence in the decision-making process.” Thomas-Symonds believes that a refusal to fire Patel would be “all but condoning bullying in the workplace,” and claims: “In any other area of life this would not be acceptable. Yet again, it seems to be one rule for them and another for everyone else.”