Johnson accused of trying to water down Patel ‘bullying’ inquiry findings

Downing Street does not deny reports that PM tried to convince author to tone down his findings

British prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of seeking to water down a report that accused his home secretary Priti Patel of bullying staff. File photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire.

British prime minister Boris Johnson has been accused of seeking to water down a report that accused his home secretary Priti Patel of bullying staff. File photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire.

 

British prime minister Boris Johnson is facing allegations of trying to water down an official inquiry that found cabinet member Priti Patel bullied staff.

A former top civil servant, Sir David Nottingham, said Mr Johnson “shouldn’t have bullies in government” and that the Conservative leader “doesn’t seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life” as he faced mounting criticism for standing by Ms Patel after the inquiry.

Downing Street did not deny suggestions that Mr Johnson had tried and failed to convince his standards ministerial adviser, Sir Alex Allan to tone down his conclusion that the home secretary’s behaviour amounted to bullying as he found instances of shouting and swearing.

The adviser quit on Friday when Mr Johnson overruled his conclusion that Ms Patel breached the ministerial code.

Sir David, the top civil servant at the department until 2011, criticised Mr Johnson for contradicting Sir Alex.

“The prime minister has simply put aside the findings of a report, and of the independent adviser Sir Alex Allan, that she is a bully and you shouldn’t’ have bullies in government,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We have to put ourselves in the position of the bullied, no one has spoken up for them, some of them are junior staff and who will be sitting there today thinking that their voice has not been heard and you cannot rely on the prime minister to stand up for them.

“For the first time as far as I can remember we have a prime minister that doesn’t seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life.”

‘Awkward situation’

Conservative peer Ken Clarke, a former home secretary, said he was “troubled” by the “very awkward situation”.

“It was assumed before that if an investigation was taken this far and if anyone was found to have broken the ministerial code, I don’t think anyone would have doubted the minister — to use the old phrase — would have to consider his or her position,” he told Times Radio.

Offering what she described as an “unreserved, fulsome apology”, Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour. But Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit as the Home Office’s permanent secretary after accusing Ms Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him, contested this.

He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff the month after her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect “on a number of further occasions”. He said he was not interviewed for the inquiry despite having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.

Meanwhile, the Times reported two unnamed senior Whitehall officials saying that the prime minister tried and failed to get Sir Alex to tone down his report to find there was no clear evidence of bullying.

“As you would expect, the Prime Minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the report,” a Downing Street spokesman said.

“Sir Alex’s conclusions are entirely his own.”

‘Interfere’

Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch said the “initial, unedited report” must be published in full and called for an independent investigation.

“These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies,” the Labour MP said.

The report found Ms Patel had not always treated civil servants with “consideration and respect” and concluded that her approach on occasions “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”.

He said Ms Patel had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code”, though he said there was “no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour”. - PA