Priti Patel: Sexism to blame for attacks branding home secretary a bully, former cabinet colleague says

Claim follows slew of accusations over alleged spats with senior colleagues

Priti Patel vows tough immigration rules ahead of government commissioned review

Sexism is to blame for a spate of media attacks on Home Secretary Priti Patel, her former cabinet colleague Theresa Villiers has claimed.

Ms Patel is said to be “absolutely livid” over a series of allegations branding her a bully and suggesting that she is distrusted by intelligence chiefs. An ally said she was demanding a leak inquiry to be carried out by the Cabinet Office, but Downing Street said no such investigation was under way.

Boris Johnson's official spokesman today said the prime minister had "full confidence in the home secretary and the vital work that she is doing to make our streets safer and take back control of the UK's borders".

Asked whether Mr Johnson also had confidence in the Home Office's senior civil servant, permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, after reports of spats with the home secretary, the PM's spokesman replied: "The prime minister has full confidence in the civil service, which is working very hard to deliver on the government's priorities."

The Home Office last night took the highly unusual step of issuing a statement to counter claims that Ms Patel was at loggerheads with her permanent secretary, following reports she had tried to move him out of the ministry following a series of rows.

A departmental spokesman said: “The Home Secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.

“They are focused on delivering on the Home Office’s hugely important agenda, which includes creating an immigration system that works for the UK, putting more police on the streets and keeping the public safe from terrorism.”

He added: "The focus for everybody should be getting on with delivering for the public and delivering on the government's priorities."

Asked if the briefings against Ms Patel were driven by an element of "misogyny", Ms Villiers told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m sick of spiteful briefings against women in high public office.

“It happens again and again and I don’t believe these allegations against Priti Patel.

“I think she’s a highly effective Home Secretary and I think whoever is making these briefings should stop it because I think they are unfair and they are damaging.”

Security minister James Brokenshire said there was “huge frustration” across the Home Office around some of the “false assertions that have been made publicly” about Ms Patel.

“I don’t accept those assertions that have been seen in the press about the Home Secretary,” he told Sky News.

“Yes, she is demanding, but in that role you have to be because you are dealing with some of the most sensitive, some of the most challenging things that you have to deal with across Government.

“I think the Home Secretary is absolutely focused on the public good, the agenda that we’ve set around policing, on immigration and indeed around counter-terrorism and security.”

Theresa Villiers

The Government on Sunday moved to strongly deny claims that MI5 chiefs do not trust Ms Patel and were limiting intelligence sharing.

The latest allegation came after she was accused of bullying officials and creating an “atmosphere of fear” at the department, which allies denied.

The security services were dragged into the row when the Sunday Times reported officials alleging intelligence chiefs do “not trust” her and have decided to share less intelligence with her.

A Government spokesman responded: “The Home Secretary and MI5 have a strong and close working relationship, and baseless claims to the contrary are both wrong and against the public interest.

“The Home Secretary receives the same daily intelligence briefings as her predecessors, and no information is being withheld.”

Mr Johnson's official spokesman told reporters that Ms Patel was receiving the same daily intelligence briefings from the agencies as her predecessors, adding: "No information is withheld."

An ally said Ms Patel asked the Cabinet Office’s director-general of propriety and ethics, Helen MacNamara, to carry out a formal leak inquiry.

But the ally said that Ms MacNamara has so far blocked the attempt.

This, however, was quickly denied by Cabinet Office sources who moved to say no request had been made to Ms MacNamara.

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