Legal challenge launched against the PM’s choice to defend Priti Patel

Priti Patel
Priti Patel. Source: Number 10 (via. Flickr)
Last November, an official report into mounting claims concluded that Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, was guilty of bullying civil servants. It stated that Patel had breached the ministerial code, whether this was unintentional or otherwise.

By Dewi Morris | Political Editor

The Prime Minister chose to disregard these findings and defended Priti Patel claiming that she had not broken the ministerial code. On February 19, The FDA (a union representing civil servants), launched a legal challenge against Boris Johnson’s decision.

The FDA do not wish to intervene on whether Patel should be made to resign, however they aim to overturn Johnson’s decision and for him to recognise that the ministerial code was broken.

The report on Patel’s behaviour defined bullying as “intimidating or insulting behaviour that makes an individual feel uncomfortable, frightened, less respected or put down”. Criteria found in instances of Patel’s behaviour.

Standards chief Sir Alex Allan, who was the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the ministerial code, resigned after Johnson decided to go against his advice and the report’s findings. The report, which the Prime Minister did not allow to be published in full, cited examples of “shouting and swearing”, failiure to consistantly treat civil servants “with consideration and respect”, and crucially, Patel’s behaviour was deemed as “bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.”

Boris Johnson asked for a report to be conducted back in March last year, after the top civil servant at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam resigned over Patel’s behaviour. Sir Rutman claimed staff had alleged Patel “created fear”. While the official report stated that there was “no evidence [Patel] was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time”, Sir Rutnam told the BBC that “as early as August 2019, the month after her appointment, she was advised that she must not shout and swear at staff… I advised her on a number of further occasions between September 2019 and February 2020 about the need to treat staff with respect.” Sir Rutnam is suing the government for constructive dismissal.

Previous accusations against Priti Patel include those from officials at the Department for International Development who claim she humiliated civil servants in front of others while she was a minister there in 2017.

Following the Prime Minister’s decision to defend Patel in November, the head of the FDA, Dave Penman argued: “What is the point of the investigation if actually what we’re saying is it doesn’t matter what evidence has been found, it doesn’t matter what the PM’s own adviser on the ministerial code says, if it’s politically convenient for the PM to ignore it, he will ignore it.”

The FDA aims to “overturn” Johnson’s claim that the ministerial code was not boken. Penman justified this by arguing: “Civil servants should expect to work with ministers without fear of being bullied or harassed. Warm words from the prime minister have no meaning if the process for addressing those behaviours has been fundamentally undermined by his actions.”

Penman claimed the Prime Minister’s ruling has damaged confidence in the ministerial code, (ministers who break the code are normally expected to resign). A survey by the FDA found that nearly 90 per cent of its members had no confidence in the code “as a mechanism for dealing with bullying and harassment by ministers.”

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