Johnson backs Priti Patel in face of top civil servant’s bullying claims

Philip Rutnam resigned as permanent secretary and will sue for constructive dismissal

Home Secretary Priti Patel has been accused of bullying and lying. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Boris Johnson has backed his home secretary Priti Patel after she was accused of lying and bullying by the top civil servant in her department, who resigned on Saturday. Opposition MPs have called on Ms Patel to answer questions in parliament about Philip Rutnam's decision to step down as permanent secretary and to sue the government for constructive dismissal.

But during a visit to Public Health England on Sunday, the prime minister said he "absolutely" continued to have confidence in the home secretary.

“I think she’s a fantastic home secretary,” he said.

“Anybody who’s been home secretary will testify that is one of the toughest jobs in government.”


Sir Philip said his resignation after 33 years in public service followed a “vicious and orchestrated” briefing campaign against him for which he believed Ms Patel was responsible. He said there was evidence that the home secretary’s treatment of him was part of a wider pattern of behaviour towards civil servants.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out,” he said.

Keir Starmer, the frontrunner to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader next month, said Ms Patel should come to parliament on Monday to address the allegations about her conduct.

Sir Philip’s departure follows Sajid Javid’s resignation as chancellor of the exchequer two weeks ago after the prime minister said No 10 should pick his advisers at the Treasury.

It comes as Britain and the EU start negotiations in Brussels on Monday on their future relationship after Brexit, including a free trade agreement. The British government will on Monday publish its negotiating guidelines for a trade agreement with the United States, which Mr Johnson hopes to negotiate in parallel with an EU deal.

‘Best negotiators’

Mr Johnson said a team led by former New Zealand trade negotiator Crawford Falconer would seek to secure a deal with Washington that would increase profits for British business and cut prices for shoppers.

“We have the best negotiators in the business and of course, we’re going to drive a hard bargain to boost British industry. Trading Scottish smoked salmon for Stetson hats, we will deliver lower prices and more choice for our shoppers. Most importantly, this transatlantic trade deal will reflect the unique closeness of our two great nations,” he said.

Britain's negotiating objectives with the US are to agree an "ambitious and comprehensive" free trade deal that will increase British GDP by opening up opportunities for business and reduce prices for consumers. But in a statement ahead of publication of the negotiating, the Department for International Trade promised to protect the National Health Service (NHS) and maintain current protections for workers and consumers.

“The NHS is not for sale and the government is committed to the guiding principles of the NHS – that it is universal and free at the point of use. Throughout the terms of the agreement, ensure high standards and protections for British consumers and workers, and build on our existing international obligations. This will include upholding the UK’s high domestic standards on food safety and animal welfare,” it said.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times