A long-awaited investigation into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel must be published immediately, Labour has said, after it emerged that the home secretary will be issued with just a warning.
The Financial Times reported that the probe would be finished “imminently” – but that Boris Johnson would only issue Patel with a written warning, rather than sacking her from the cabinet.
Citing unnamed Whitehall officials, the paper said the prime minister was intending to “fudge” the outcome of the report which has “robust criticisms” of Patel’s behaviour.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “Reports that the Home Secretary is to receive a written warning for conduct in government are incredibly serious.
“The role of Home Secretary comes with huge levels of responsibility and trust. It is now vital that the full report is published without delay, so the public can have full confidence in the decision-making process.”
A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments, but the result of the probe has yet to be revealed.
Sir Philip Rutnam, who was the Home Office’s permanent secretary, quit earlier this year, accusing Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him and is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Patel has expressed concern at the “false” claims, and allies have described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.
Eyes on Boris
Earlier this week the former head of the civil service Lord Sedwill told MPs the investigation was now “with” Johnson. “It’s a decision in the end for the PM, whether he publishes anything,” he told a parliamentary select committee.
All cabinet ministers are governed by the ministerial code, which rules that “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the ministerial code and will not be tolerated”. Johnson himself decides whether the code has been broken.
Dave Penman, head of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, told the FT: “Thousands of civil servants who support ministers every day are waiting to see whether he [Johnson ] will honour the commitments he gave when he took up office, or whether difficult party political considerations will outweigh his obligations as prime minister.”
Tory sources told the paper that, if she is not sacked, Patel might be moved to a new department in a new year reshuffle, amid speculation that Johnson is “increasingly unhappy” with her stint at the Home Office.
“Her inability to control immigrants across the channel whilst constantly talking the problem up and never doing a deal with the French to arrest the flow has also annoyed the PM,” one “well-placed Tory” said.