Priti Patel's career on brink after home secretary accused of bullying staff at third department

Foreign aid staff ready to give evidence at ex-Home Office chief's tribunal - which could establish a pattern of behaviour

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Wednesday 04 March 2020 09:34 GMT
Boris Johnson says he has confidence in Priti Patel following bullying allegations

Priti Patel’s career is hanging by a thread after she was accused of bullying staff at a third government department.

The home secretary is facing a “tsunami of allegations” that she humiliated civil servants in front of others and gave the impression that “everyone is hopeless”, while international development secretary.

The claims are similar to those made by Philip Rutnam, who sensationally quit as the Home Office’s top civil servant and is taking a constructive dismissal case to an employment tribunal.

While Ms Patel was the work minister, an official in her private office allegedly tried to kill herself after being bullied and later received a £25,000 payout from the government.

Crucially, the inquiry ordered by Boris Johnson into whether Ms Patel has breached the ministerial code will examine all complaints made against her in her various jobs.

Furthermore, the staff who have attacked her behaviour at the department for international development (DfID) are reported to be ready to give evidence at Sir Philip’s tribunal hearing.

One cabinet minister told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that it now threatened to turn into “Armageddon” for the prime minister – who may himself be required to give evidence.

Mr Johnson has stood by Ms Patel so far – saying she is “doing an outstanding job and that he has “absolutely every confidence in her” – and values her backing from fellow hard Brexit-backers.

The danger for him now is that both the tribunal and the inquiry being carried out by Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, establish a pattern of bullying behaviour.

Asked about the latest accusation, a Home Office spokesperson said: “The home secretary categorically rejects all of these allegations.

An unnamed Conservative Party source attempted to claim there was a deep conspiracy to oust her, which some Tory MPs have linked to her determination to “take on the establishment”.

“What we are seeing is a concerted effort by certain sections of the civil service to undermine a home secretary trying to deliver what people want on crime and immigration,” the source told Newsnight.

“It is deeply disturbing that dark forces are trying to influence the findings of a Cabinet Office inquiry.”

The latest claims, in 2017, reportedly triggered advice from a senior DfID official that the previous Cabinet Secretary, the late Lord Heywood, should be informed.

The official wanted the allegations to be lodged in the Whitehall system so that colleagues would be aware of allegations surrounding Ms Patel if, as expected, she returned to ministerial office.

She was forced to quit as international development secretary, over her extraordinary plan to funnel UK foreign aid cash through the Israeli army – but was brought back by Mr Johnson last summer.

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