PM overruled civil service chief on settlement for spad sacked by Cummings

Ministerial direction letters reveal Manzoni advised Boris Johnson to negotiate with Sonia Khan
Photo: David Cliff/NurPhoto/PA Images

Boris Johnson ignored advice to settle an unfair dismissal claim by a special adviser who was sacked by Dominic Cummings and later received a hefty payout, newly-published letters reveal.

In March, then-civil service chief executive John Manzoni urged the prime minister to negotiate with Sonia Khan, who had been dismissed as a Treasury adviser by Johnson's top spad the previous September, after she refused the government's initial settlement for her sacking.

In a letter dated 3 March, Manzoni advised the PM to rethink his instruction to civil servants "that we should not make further efforts to settle this claim".

"Given the ongoing expenditure of defending the case and the potential costs that a court may award, it is my advice, taking account of legal and financial analysis, that a further negotiation should be carried out to avoid litigation," wrote Manzoni, who left the role this summer.

The then-chief exec said that while it was "perfectly legitimate" for the prime minister to refuse his advice based on other considerations, he would require a written ministerial direction to do so given the value-for-money question.

In his response, Johnson said he was "content" for Khan to be offered the standard amount of compensaion offered under her contract and that "no further offer should be made to attempt settlement in advance of any potential litigation".

"I understand your concerns as expressed concerning the value for money of contesting the claim without further attempts at settlement, however as you have correctly stated I am able to take into account wider considerations than value for money," he told Manzoni.

"The legal position is clear that the prime minister can withdraw consent for the appointment of any special adviser. That is the reason for the termination of employment and I am content for a reasons letter to be issued to the individual setting that out.

"I do not believe that individuals should receive more compensation than they are entitled to under their contract and therefore I believe that this claim should be tested in litigation."

Khan dropped her employment tribunal claim last month after reaching an out-of-court settlement with the Treasury. The amount has not been disclosed but has been reported to be a five-figure sum.

No reason was given for Cummings's dismissal of Khan, who was working for then-chancellor Sajid Javid at the time. Javid was reportedly angered by her sacking, and later resigned after refusing to meet a demand to fire his remaining special advisers so they could be replaced by a team picked by No.10.

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