Home secretary Priti Patel has suggested that published details of the independent investigation into her treatment of civil servants – which found evidence of bullying – painted an inaccurate picture of the real situation.
Sir Alex Allan, the prime minister’s independent adviser on standards, resigned last month after Boris Johnson rejected his conclusion that Patel’s behaviour had breached the ministerial code.
A two-page summary version of Allan’s report said Patel’s behaviour had included “some occasions of shouting and swearing” at staff, and that it amounted to unintentional bullying. Allan said there was no evidence that the home secretary had harassed staff.
In an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, Patel dismissed the suggestion that she was someone who shouted and swore at her staff and did not directly address the question of whether she had changed her behaviour in recent weeks and months.
Patel said she had apologised for her behaviour – which she described as “direct” on the day the summary of Allan’s findings was published – but referred to changes across the Home Office in her response.
“There are many, many changes that are under way right now, and that applies not just to behaviour but culture and various leadership within the organisation, too,” she said.
Asked to clarify whether she was changing her behaviour, Patel replied: “I’ve made it quite clear, that it’s across the board. It applies to everyone, including myself.”
Presenter Nick Robinson asked Patel whether it was fair to say to people who thought she screamed and shouted at colleagues that she had learnt her lesson.
Patel replied: “That’s not accurate for a start. But, as I’ve said, there are changes and that applies to myself as well.”
Robinson pointed out that “shouting and swearing” was a direct quote from Allan.
“That’s a summary of the report,” Patel replied. “I’m not sure that you’ve read the report because I haven’t read the report.”
Patel did not clarify the grounds on which she believed Allan’s summary was inaccurate. However she did refer to “other things that were taking place” at the Home Office over the period under investigation.
While the summary version of Allan’s report was clear that Patel’s actions had amounted to a breach of the ministerial code, it was not entirely complimentary about the conduct of civil servants– both in the Home Office and the Department for International Development, where Patel was secretary of state from 2016-2017.
Allan said Patel had been “justifiably” frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s “lack of responsiveness” and had also felt a “lack of support” at DfID. That department was merged with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to form the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office earlier this year.
Allan said the civil service needed to “reflect on its role during this period”, with principal areas being a shortfall of flexibility in responding to Patel’s requests and a lack of feedback on the impact of her behaviour.
Allan’s investigation was prompted by the resignation of Home Office perm sec Sir Philip Rutnam in February.
Rutnam has launched a constructive dismissal case against Patel and the government that is due to be heard by an employment tribunal next year.
Last week, the FDA union said it had sent the government a letter before action as the first step to seeking a judicial review of the prime minister’s decision to disregard Allan’s findings on Patel's behaviour.
It said the move had set a “damaging precedent”.