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PM tried to water down Patel bullying report, say Whitehall sources

Written by on 21 November 2020

Boris Johnson attempted to water down the official inquiry that found Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied staff, Whitehall sources have confirmed to Sky News.

It follows claims the prime minister tried and failed to convince his standards ministerial adviser Sir Alex Allan to tone down his finding that her behaviour amounted to bullying as he found instances of shouting and swearing.

The adviser quit on Friday when Mr Johnson overruled his conclusion that Ms Patel breached the ministerial code and stood by his home secretary.

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‘I’m sorry that my behaviour upset people’

Offering what she described as an “unreserved, fulsome apology”, Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour.

However, this was disputed by Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit as the Home Office’s permanent secretary after accusing Ms Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him.

He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff the month after her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect “on a number of further occasions”.

Sir Philip also said he was not interviewed for the inquiry despite him having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.

More from Priti Patel

Speaking to Sky News, former diplomat and national security adviser Lord Ricketts said: “The ministerial code is policed by the prime minister and if the prime minister rejects the finding of his independent adviser then there is clearly something quite wrong with the situation.

“It seems to imply that bullying by a senior minister is acceptable and that sends a very bad signal for relations between ministers and the civil service.”

He added: “The country is facing such a serious issue with recovery from the pandemic, we need ministers and civil servants to be working together confidently, with trust and with frankness on both sides and this episode has not helped that.”

Downing Street has not denied reports that Mr Johnson tried to influence the report’s findings, with a spokesman instead saying: “As you would expect, the prime minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the report.

“Sir Alex’s conclusions are entirely his own.”

Labour has called for an urgent investigation and called for the “initial, unedited report” to be published in full.

Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch said: “These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies.”