Priti Patel ‘was warned about swearing at staff in August 2019’, Sir Philip Rutnam claims
Sir Philip Rutnam said it was “not correct” that Ms Patel did not receive feedback about her behaviour, as suggested in a standards report that found she had broken the ministerial code.
He also revealed he was “not asked to contribute evidence” to the report. Sir Philip resigned as Ms Patel’s permanent secretary in February after accusing her of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” and is suing the government for constructive dismissal.
His intervention came after Ms Patel issued an “unreserved apology” while also describing any upset caused as “completely unintentional”, adding: “Of course it says it in the report, that issues were not pointed out to me.”
In a statement released through the FDA union for civil servants’, Sir Phillip said: “The advice states that no feedback was given to the Home Secretary and that she was therefore unaware of issue that she might otherwise have addressed. This is not correct.
“As early as August 2019, the month after her appointment, she was advised that she must not shout and swear at staff. I advised her on a number of further occasion between September 2019 and February 2020 about the need to treat staff with respect, and to make chances to protect safety and wellbeing.”
He added: “Enormous efforts were madd from top to bottom in the Home Office to support the new Home Secretary and respond to her direction, and significant achievements have resulted. The advice does not fairly reflect this.”
A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that Ms Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments.
Sir Phillip said he has “high regard” for Sir Alex Allen, the Prime Minister’s standards adviser who carried out the probe and resigned on Friday after Boris Johnson refused to sack Ms Patel. But he added: “I was at no stage asked to contribute evidence to the Cabinet Office investigation which gave rise to his advice to the Prime Minister”.
Sir Allan said the Home Secretary had not always treated civil servants with “consideration and respect” and concluded that her approach on occasions “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”.
He said Ms Patel had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code”, though said there was “no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour”.
But Mr Johnson, who is arbiter of the code, judged that Ms Patel did not breach the rules. He continues to have “full confidence” in the Home Secretary and “considers this matter now closed”, according to a Government statement.
In his resignation statement Sir Alex said: “I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement 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.”
In her first televised comments on the scandal, Ms Patel told Sky she had “never intentionally set out to upset anyone” and made a point of praising the “thousands of brilliant civil servants” in her department.
Speaking on the BBC, she said: “I’m here to give an unreserved apology today and I am sorry if I have upset people in any way whatsoever.
“That was completely unintentional and I’ll be very candid, you know the work that I do here in this department and across Government is deeply challenging.
“So, if I have upset people, that has been completely unintentional, that was not my intention and I’m absolutely sorry for any upset that has been associated with that.”
Ms Patel said Sir Alex had said in his advice to the Prime Minister that the allegations had to be put into the “context of what has been going on in this department and how this organisation is changing”.
“I’m working with the Permanent Secretary here, Matthew Rycroft, to really change the culture and ways of working in this department and it is correct, if you read the report, that I’m very clear about this, any upset that I’ve caused is completely unintentional and at the time, of course it says it in the report, that issues were not pointed out to me.”
She said the Home Office was a “challenging department” where “we’re making life and death decisions every single day in this department”.
Her apology did not wash with Lord Kerslake, a former head of the Civil Service, who said that Ms Patel’s refusal to resign was “reprehensible”.
“It is absolutely a clear-cut breach of the code on a very serious issue of bullying. In those circumstances in any other time the minister would have gone,” he told the BBC.
“We expect higher standards from our Government. We expect them to follow the highest possible standard of behaviour. She hasn’t met it, she should go and the fact that she isn’t going is in my view just reprehensible.”
He added: “I think it will worry people that when we are under pressure, push comes to shove, political expediency will trump proper standards of conduct and behaviour.
“I have to say – and I don’t like saying this – that the standards have fallen since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister.”
At Friday’s Downing Street coronavirus press conference, Health Secretary Matt Hancock dodged a question on why there should be an independent adviser on the ministerial code if the Prime Minister overrides their judgment.
He said: “I have answered the question on the Home Secretary, and the Prime Minister has been clear that he doesn’t think the Home Secretary has broken the ministerial code.”
Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said the Prime Minister “loathes bullying” and takes the allegations “seriously”, but did not consider Ms Patel to be a bully.
Ms Stratton told a Westminster briefing: “These were extremely serious allegations that were made and that have been dealt with in detail, not just by Sir Alex Allan but also by the Prime Minister.
“The Prime Minister does personally take these allegations exceedingly seriously. He loathes bullying. He takes it very seriously and recognises that it is very difficult for people to come forward and raise concerns. It is a brave thing to do. He knows that.
“He did say that he would not tolerate bullying. He hasn’t tolerated bullying. It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.”
Downing Street indicated that the full report into Ms Patel’s conduct would not be published in order to protect those who gave evidence.