Boris Johnson’s defence of Priti Patel goes beyond the call of duty

British PM’s staunch support for home secretary amid bullying claims defies necessity

 Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson, flanked by home secretary Priti Patel, during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons in London. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK parliament/AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s prime minister Boris Johnson, flanked by home secretary Priti Patel, during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons in London. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK parliament/AFP via Getty Images

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

There was never any doubt that Boris Johnson would express support for Priti Patel at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, but the emphatic nature of his defence went beyond the call of duty or necessity. The home secretary is the subject of a cabinet office investigation after officials accused her of bullying staff in her current department and in two previous ones.

But with Patel sitting next to him wearing a fuschia dress and her signature smirk, the prime minister leapt to his feet to defend her against Jeremy Corbyn’s criticism.

“Of course, it is right that there should be an investigation into any allegations of bullying, and that is what the cabinet office and Sir Alex Allan will be doing. Since the right honourable gentleman mentions the home secretary, let me just remind him that 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. The right honourable gentleman would scrap stop and search, he believes in getting rid of our security services and he certainly would not tackle our immigration system,” Johnson said.

Johnson used the same formula in response to every question about Patel’s behaviour, referring briefly to the investigation before praising her role in the home office.

Puzzling choice

His choice of Patel for one of the great offices of state puzzled many at Westminster and in Whitehall, where she had a poor reputation as a minister, with officials whispering that she was not intellectually up to scratch. But her image as a hardline Brexiteer who is determined to get tough on criminals and illegal immigrants is popular among some of the voters that make up the new Conservative coalition.

For some in Johnson’s circle, the civil service represents a hostile element bent on thwarting the radical change his government is committed to on everything from foreign and defence policy to the economy. But the charge sheet against Patel is now so long and some of the allegations date back so far that it is difficult to sustain the claim made privately by some Conservatives that the accusations are part of an orchestrated campaign by officials to frustrate the government.

Even if she survives the cabinet office investigation, Patel will find herself in a perilous place: the home office is such an accident-prone department that most of her recent predecessors have had to leave it abruptly. And when Patel is tripped up by events, her officials could decide not to rush in but to sit back and let them take their course.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.