Home secretary Priti Patel is expected to be cleared of breaking the ministerial code by bullying civil servants in a Whitehall probe this week, as opposition MPs call for the inquiry's findings to be made public “as soon as possible”.
Patel, who will appear before MPs on the Home Affairs Committee today, is being investigated by the Cabinet Office following the dramatic resignation of her most senior official, Sir Philip Rutnam.
The former Home Office permanent secretary, who has lodged an employment tribunal claim against Patel, quit in February, alleging that he had been the victim of "a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign" by allies of the home secretary.
Rutnam accused Patel of failing to "disassociate herself" from media attacks on him, and of bullying senior staff in the department.
In the weeks following his resignation, further allegations came to light that Patel had previously bullied staff while working in two other government departments.
The senior minister has rejected "all allegations" made against her, but Boris Johnson ordered a separate internal investigation led by the Cabinet Office to determine whether she had breached the ministerial code.
The Telegraph reported yeseteray that Patel has been cleared of bullying her staff, with a Whitehall source saying: “They trawled through lots of material but found no evidence.”
The Labour Party wrote to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove last week demanding the publication of the inquiry’s findings “as soon as possible”, the BBC reports.
Gove’s opposite number Rachel Reeves, as well as shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds, said: "At a time when additional powers are being assumed by the government, the imperative that the public are completely assured of the conduct of senior ministers is even greater.”
The pair added: "As a result we are calling on you to ensure that the findings of the inquiry are published as soon as possible."
Dave Penman, whose civil service union the FDA is representing Rutnam in his employment tribunal claim, hit out at the Cabinet Office process in the wake of reports Patel will be exonerated.
The FDA general secretary said: “It tells you everything that is wrong with investigations under the ministerial code that a process which is not written down, which contains no rights for those who might complain, that is determined in secret, alone by a prime minister who has already pledged his allegiance to the minister in advance, and which allows no right to transparency or challenge for anyone who complained, would then be leaked on the evening before the home secretary is due to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee.”
The prime minister has attracted criticism for backing Patel before the inquiry had even begun.
The day after Rutnam resigned, Johnson said he “absolutely” had confidence in the home secretar. Announcing 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.”
They are among a number of Conservative ministers and backbenchers who have defended Patel. In an interview with CSW this month, Sir Bernard Jenkin, a Tory MP and former head of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, said he did not believe reports of Patel bullying officials were true.
“We don’t need more than two or three people to be briefing to fill the front pages with what they want to want to print and I have little doubt that this rather diminutive, petite but fiery, non-Oxbridge, north-London Ugandan Asian has been subject to a certain amount of presumptive behaviour challenges, shall we put it, by people who think they know much better," he said.