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Patel hails ‘brilliant civil servants’ in first TV comments after bullying report apology

Written by on 20 November 2020

Priti Patel has praised “brilliant civil servants” in her first televised comments since being forced to apologise over bullying allegations.

The home secretary said she was “sorry that my behaviour has upset people”, adding that she had “never intentionally set out to upset anyone”.

She continued: “I work with thousands of brilliant civil servants every single day and we work together, day in, day out, to deliver on the agenda of this government.

“And I’m absolutely sorry for anyone that I have upset.”

Image:
Priti Patel with the prime minister, Boris Johnson

Her comments follow a ruling from the government’s independent adviser on standards, Sir Alex Allan, which found she was “in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally”.

But Boris Johnson disagreed, deciding that his home secretary had not breached the code over bullying accusations, prompting Sir Alex to resign.

A government source said Sir Alex quit because the prime minister ignored his advice.

More from Boris Johnson

A breach of the ministerial code usually leads to a prime minister – the ultimate arbiter of the code – asking the minister in question to step down.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had been “found wanting when his leadership has been tested”, adding that if he were prime minister, Ms Patel would have been sacked.

“It is one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends, another for everyone else,” said Sir Keir.

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Priti Patel is ‘courteous and kind’

But the prime minister said he had full confidence in his home secretary and “considers this matter now closed”.

It also emerged that he had urged Tory MPs, in a WhatsApp message, to “form a square around the Prittster”.

Sir Alex said Ms Patel had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect”.

He also found evidence of “shouting and swearing” from Ms Patel during her time as a minister in different government departments.

On occasions, her approach “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”, he added.

“To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally,” he said.

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‘I don’t believe Priti Patel’

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister had been “reassured that the home secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those whom she was working with”.

“He is also reassured that relationships in the Home Office are much improved, and that’s the basis on which he took the decision,” the spokesman added.

In addition, Downing Street pointed to “mitigating factors” around Ms Patel’s behaviour, as outlined in Sir Alex’s findings.

The senior official noted how – “justifiably in many instances” – Ms Patel had been “frustrated” by civil servants’ “lack of responsiveness” and her feelings of a “lack of support”.

Sir Alex said there was “no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time”.

He added there had been “different and more positive behaviour” from Ms Patel since the issues were first raised with her.

The inquiry into Ms Patel’s behaviour followed the resignation of the Home Office’s most senior civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, in February, amid widespread reports of a bitter feud between himself and Ms Patel.