Boris Johnson defends Priti Patel amid bullying allegations

British prime minister says he is ‘sticking by’ the home secretary as fresh claims emerge

British prime minister Boris Johnson has vigorously defended his home secretary Priti Patel, who faces allegations of bullying, telling MPs he was "sticking by" her. Ms Patel sat next to Mr Johnson during prime minister's questions on Wednesday, when he praised her performance as the minister in charge of immigration and policing.

“The home secretary is doing an outstanding job: delivering change, putting police on the streets, cutting crime and delivering a new immigration system – and I’m sticking by her,” he said.

The prime minister this week ordered a cabinet office inquiry into allegations against Ms Patel after Philip Rutnam said he was suing the government for constructive dismissal as he resigned as permanent secretary at the home office. Sir Philip blamed the home secretary for a briefing campaign against him and said he had heard complaints from other civil servants about her behaviour.

The BBC reported this week that a former aide to Ms Patel in the department of work and pensions received a £25,000 (about €29,000) payout after taking an overdose of prescription drugs following alleged bullying by her. Another BBC report said that officials at the department of international development accused Ms Patel of humiliating civil servants in front of others.


Independent investigation

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called for an independent investigation into the allegations and criticised the prime minister's response to them.

“Is he completely unaware of all the allegations that have been made over the last few days? Is he completely unaware of the resignation of a permanent secretary because of his treatment by the home secretary? We have a part-time prime minister who barely turns up but is determined to cover up for bullies in his government.

“There cannot be one rule for workers across this country, and another for him and his ministers. His home secretary has been accused of repeated bullying and harassment, leading to hard-working staff attempting suicide by overdose, and he has given her his full support. How can the people of this country have faith in a prime minister who cannot be bothered to turn up and, when he does, has no shame in defending bullying in his own government?” he said.

Record defended

Mr Johnson said the cabinet office would look into all allegations brought to its attention, but he defended Ms Patel’s record as home secretary.

“She is keeping this country safe by putting in place record numbers of police officers, she believes in stopping the early release of offenders, and she is bringing in an Australian-style, points-based system to tackle our migration crisis,” he said.

Mr Corbyn’s spokesman said later that government staff had contacted the Labour leader’s office with allegations of bullying at the home office by Ms Patel.

“They are bullying and harassment allegations of government staff and they simply build up the picture that has already accumulated in recent days. It is quite clear this is not an isolated allegation by one individual about one incident or one set of incidents,” the spokesman said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times