Sir Philip Rutnam, former permanent secretary at the Home Office, has begun legal proceedings against the department for constructive dismissal.
Rutnam, who lodged his employment tribunal yesterday, resigned in late February during a televised address. He said home secretary Priti Patel “created fear” in the Home Office and that she had refused to change her behaviour when asked. This had made it impossible to do his job, he said.
Patel has denied the bullying claims, along with further reports that have emerged about her behaviour towards staff when she was a minister in other departments.
The ex-perm sec, whose resignation came after weeks of anonymous briefings against both him and Patel in the press, also said he had been the victim of a "vicious campaign" which implied that he had briefed the press against the home secretary. He said he did not believe Patel when she denied any involvement in the campaign.
Announcing the commencement of legal action, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA trade union, said in a statement yesterday: “On 29 February 2020, Sir Philip Rutnam resigned as permanent secretary of the Home Office, indicating that he intended to pursue a claim of constructive dismissal.
“Following his resignation, the FDA instructed Gavin Mansfield QC, head of Littleton Chambers and employment law specialist, as counsel to advise Sir Philip, supported by Clive Howard, senior principal lawyer, employment and partnership at Slater and Gordon.
“This morning, Sir Philip, with the support of his legal team and the FDA, submitted a claim to the employment tribunal for unfair (constructive) dismissal and whistleblowing against the home secretary.
“Sir Philip will not be making any further comment at this time.”
Cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill is leading an investigation into whether Patel has breached the ministerial code. Announcing the inquiry in March, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed it would examine all bullying allegations made against the home secretary.
But the FDA, which represents senior civil servants, has criticised the prime minister for backing Patel before the inquiry had even begun.
Days after Rutnam quit, Boris Johnson said he “absolutely” had confidence in the home secretary. When he announced the inquiry, Gove added: “The prime minister has expressed his full confidence in her, and having worked closely with the home secretary over a number of years, I have the highest regard for her, she is a superb minister doing a great job.”