Priti Patel bullying inquiry delay ‘eroding trust’ within Whitehall | Home Office

The home secretary, Priti Patel, is under pressure on multiple fronts following a claim that Boris Johnson’s failure to conclude a seven-month bullying inquiry into her conduct is damaging relations across Whitehall.

The allegation was sent to the prime minister by the FDA union as Patel’s allies said they suspected other ministers may be behind attempts to discredit Home Office plans for asylum seekers by leaking details to the media.

Dave Penman, the union’s general secretary, told Johnson that the delay in publishing the inquiry’s findings was eroding trust between ministers and senior civil servants.

“I would urge you to recognise the long-term damage that is being done to the relationship between ministers and civil servants by these delays and address these issues as a matter of urgency,” Penman wrote in a letter seen by the Guardian.

The Cabinet Office inquiry was launched on 2 March by Michael Gove, who told parliament: “It is vital that this investigation is concluded as quickly as possible in the interests of everyone involved.”

Patel is alleged to have mistreated staff and clashed with senior officials in three departments, including in her current role as home secretary. She has denied all the claims.

Timeline

Priti Patel: a decade in politics

Show

May 2010

Becomes the first female Asian Conservative MP. Picked
for junior ministerial
roles in the Treasury and
Department for Work
and Pensions by David
Cameron. Allies herself
with the ‘new right’ when
she co-authors – with
Dominic Raab, Kwasi
Kwarteng, Chris Skidmore
and Liz Truss – a 2012
book called Britannia
Unchained, which calls for
lower taxes and massive
economic deregulation,
with one section famously
describing Britons as
‘among the worst idlers in
the world’.

May 2015

Gains the right to attend cabinet after the election as secretary of state for the Department of Work and Pensions. A lifelong
Eurosceptic, she campaigns
vigorously for Vote Leave in
the 2016 Brexit referendum
campaign. Attracts ire from
Emmeline Pankhurst’s
great granddaughter,
Helen, when she compares
her anti-EU women’s
campaign group, Women
for Britain, to the
suffragettes.

July 2016

Becomes
international development
secretary under Theresa
May, raising concerns
among departmental
staff and aid charities
because of her support
for Brexit and her longheld scepticism towards
international development
and aid spending. One
charity even compiles a
cuttings dossier of her
previous statements calling
for the aid budget to be
reduced or redistributed.

November 2017

The BBC’s
James Landale breaks
the story that Patel has
held unauthorised work
meetings in Israel with
senior figures including
Benjamin Netanyahu,
the prime minister,
during what was billed
as a family holiday. She
is summoned to Downing
Street and, after first
robustly defending herself,
she resigns.

July 2019

After less than two
years on the backbenches,
returns to the cabinet
under Boris Johnson in
July as home secretary,
prompting rights groups
to raise her previous
comments on areas
including immigration,
asylum and criminal
justice – not least the death
penalty, of which she spoke
in favour on the BBC’s
Question Time in 2011, a
view she now disowns.

February 2020

Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office’s top civil servant, resigns and threatens to sue for constructive dismissal after what he calls ‘a vicious and orchestrated’ campaign against him by Patel. A string of further allegations emerge of her bullying, intimidating, belittling and shouting at civil servants in DfID and the DWP as well as the Home Office. She is said to have been cleared by a Cabinet Office inquiry, as yet unpublished.

June 2020

Criticises police chiefs
for not clamping down
on the Black Lives Matter
protesters who toppled the
statue of Edward Colston
in Bristol. Condemns
the actions of protesters
around the country as
‘reckless and unlawful’.
Stokes controversy when
she tells the Commons she
will not ‘take lectures’ on
racism, having experienced
it herself.

Several reports have claimed that the inquiry, conducted under the ministerial code, has been completed and is waiting for the prime minister’s signature.

Penman wrote that senior civil servants were concerned that ministerial inquiries, which provide no transparency or timeframe for conclusion, may not be free from political interference.

“Seven months on, it will be hard to reach any conclusion other than that justice has already been denied and that the continued delay to the process is driven solely by political considerations,” he wrote.

Trust between government departments was eroded this week after several leaks were made over Home Office plans for asylum seekers arriving in the UK. Sources in the department said they were concerned that officials from rival ministries were behind revelations that officials had considered detaining people in centres in locations such as Ascension Island and Papua New Guinea.

There are concerns that “blue sky” ideas, some of which originate with the prime minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, are being leaked to damage both the Home Office and Patel.

Andrew Bridgen, the MP for North West Leicestershire, said some of the briefings may come from potential rivals in any future leadership challenge. “Some people are worried because they see Priti as a future leader of the Conservative party, and they know that these policies are incredibly popular in the party so they want to ridicule them,” he said.

Documents seen by the Guardian suggest the government has for weeks been working on “detailed plans” that include cost estimates of building asylum detention camps on the south Atlantic islands of Ascension and St Helena, as well as Moldova, Morocco and Papua New Guinea. Disused ferries or abandoned oil rigs have also been considered.

One source said: ‘These stories have not been coming from the Home Office. One has to wonder who is leaking them and why.”

Patel’s allies said the creation of remote asylum processing centres was not something being planned in the short term, and that it remained more likely that the Home Office would instead reconsider opening up disused prisons and detention centres, such as Morton Hall in Lincolnshire.

The home secretary will give details of her migration policy in a speech on Sunday to the Conservative party conference.

Asked to respond to the FDA’s letter, a UK government spokesperson said: “The process is ongoing. The prime minister will make any decision on the matter public once the process has concluded.”


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