Home Secretary to get away with bullying as Cabinet Office expected to clear her of any wrongdoing

Updated: May 5, 2020

UK Home Secretary, Priti Patel is expected to be cleared of bullying senior civil servants in three separate government departments, Whitehall sources have confirmed.

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched over claims that she belittled colleagues and breached the ministerial code by mistreating staff at the Home Office, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Department for International Trade.

Reports of her impending clearance have prompted condemnation of the Cabinet Office inquiry process, which is conducted in secret and offers no recourse for complainants. Boris Johnson has already been criticised for compromising the process by insisting, before the inquiry had concluded, that he would continue to support Patel.

Meanwhile, Labour has called for the conclusion of the inquiry to be made public.

Labour’s, Rachel Reeves, and shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, wrote to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last week calling for transparency.

“At a time when additional powers are being assumed by the government, the imperative that the public are completely assured of the conduct of senior ministers is even greater,” they wrote.

“As a result, we are calling on you to ensure that the findings of the inquiry are published as soon as possible. Parliament should also be updated this week about the progress of the inquiry and the timing of its completion.”

Labour said the letter was sent last week and that no response has been received. She is still to face claims from her former Home Office permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, who is using whistleblowing laws to take her to an employment tribunal for constructive dismissal.

Sir Philip, who was the Home Office’s permanent secretary, quit earlier this year accusing Ms Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him.

Ms Patel expressed concern at the “false” claims and allies described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.

Officials in her private office at the Department for International Development had made a “tsunami” of complaints about her behaviour, it was alleged. She was accused of ridiculing and belittling staff and exerting “heavy pressure” in emails.

Dave Penman, the head of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, including Rutnam, said the cabinet inquiry process should be reviewed.

“It tells you everything that is wrong with investigations under the ministerial code that a process which is not written down, which contains no rights for those who might complain, that is determined in secret, alone by a prime minister who has already pledged his allegiance to the minister in advance, and which allows no right to transparency or challenge for anyone who complained, would then be leaked on the evening before the home secretary is due to appear before the home affairs select committee,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ms Patel is due to appear before MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Wednesday morning, where she will be questioned about her department’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

She is expected to be questioned about NHS visa extensions, difficulties with the EU Settlement Scheme, the measures taken to help victims of domestic and child abuse, migrants and asylum seekers during the outbreak, as well as the provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) for police.