Standards adviser quits as Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel over bullying inquiry

Charles Hymas
·4-min read
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary - Stefan Rousseau/PA
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary - Stefan Rousseau/PA

The Government's adviser on standards has quit after Boris Johnson backed Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, over allegations that she bullied civil servants.

Sir Alex Allan said he was resigning from his post after the Prime Minister stood by Ms Patel, saying he did not believe she had breached the Ministerial Code of behaviour over her alleged bullying and that he had "full confidence" in her.

Ms Patel issued an apology, saying she was sorry "my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone".

It came after Sir Alex found Ms Patel had "unintentionally" breached the code, saying: "Her approach [to civil servants] 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."

In his resignation statement, 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."

Sir Alex Allan found Ms Patel had 'unintentionally' breached the ministerial code on behaviour
Sir Alex Allan found Ms Patel had 'unintentionally' breached the ministerial code on behaviour

The investigation was prompted by the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam, the former Home Office permanent secretary, in February over what he claimed was a "vicious and orchestrated campaign" against him, alleging Ms Patel's behaviour had led to a climate of fear in the department.

Ms Patel has consistently denied all allegations of bullying, and allies have accused Sir Philip of obstructing and undermining her by blocking announcements, thwarting staff moves and undermining her in Cabinet.

Sir Alex's report said Ms Patel had justifiably become frustrated in many instances by Home Office officials' obstruction leading to behaviour by her that "manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing" which may unintentionally have upset staff.

But he added: "There is no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time. The high pressure and demands of the role in the Home Office, coupled with the need for more supportive leadership from top of the department, has clearly been a contributory factor. 

"In particular, I note the finding of different and more positive behaviour since these issues were raised with her."

The investigation into Ms Patel was prompted by the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam, the former Home Office permanent secretary, in February - Helen William/PA
The investigation into Ms Patel was prompted by the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam, the former Home Office permanent secretary, in February - Helen William/PA

A statement issued by the Government on behalf of Mr Johnson noted that "many of the concerns were not raised at the time and that the Home Secretary was unaware of the effect that she had". 

It said: "He is reassured that the Home Secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working. He is also reassured that relationships, practices and culture in the Home Office are much improved. 

"As the arbiter of the code, having considered Sir Alex's advice and weighing up all the factors, the Prime Minister's judgment is that the Ministerial Code was not breached. The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary and considers this matter now closed. He is grateful to the thousands of civil servants working extremely hard to support delivery of the Government's priorities."

In her statement, 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 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. The permanent secretary and I are working closely together to deliver on the vital job the Home Office has to do for the country."  

Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office who replaced Sir Philip, said: "Sir Alex Allan's findings make difficult reading, including 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, candour, safety to challenge, mutual respect and professionalism. Relationships between ministers and officials have improved considerably.  

“Day in, day out, Home Office staff work tirelessly to keep the public safe, cut crime and improve our immigration and asylum system, and we are determined that they should do so in a supportive environment that respects their well-being."