Bullying inquiry head quits as Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel

Government standards adviser out after PM sticks by embattled home secretary

Priti Patel arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Foreign Office.
(Image credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson’s adviser on ministerial standards has resigned after the prime minister backed Home Secretary Priti Patel over a bullying inquiry.

Alex Allan found that Patel’s behaviour had breached the code, but she looks set to hold on to her cabinet role after Johnson said she has his “full confidence”.

The home secretary today said that she was sorry “that my behaviour in the past has upset people”, after a Whitehall investigation found that she had “not always met the high standards” required of ministers.

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Allan said that while “it is for the prime minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the ministerial code”, he felt “that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the prime minister's independent adviser on the code”.

Sources familiar with the probes told The Guardian that it had “found evidence that civil servants were treated poorly by Patel, as well as compelling evidence of bullying”.

The report concluded that her actions may have been “unintentional” and “its criticism of senior civil servants for not raising their concerns directly with her before they became public”, The Times reports.

It is also understood that Johnson will not publish the report, which was launched after details were made public in February about Patel’s “behaviour towards senior staff in the Home Office and previous departments in which she had worked”, the paper adds.

Patel has denied allegations of bullying, with allies describing her as a “demanding” boss but not a “bully”, The Guardian reports.

The dispute over Patel’s behaviour was triggered in March, when Philip Rutnam, the former Home Office permanent secretary, resigned his role after what he described as a “vicious and orchestrated campaign” against him for raising concerns about her actions.

An employment tribunal has been launched into Rutnam’s departure, while reports have also described how a “senior Home Office official collapsed after a fractious meeting with Patel”, the paper adds.

It is also alleged that Patel “humiliated civil servants in front of others” while she was a minister in the Department for International Development 2017. A civil servant in the Department for Work and Pensions also received a £25,000 payout after she claimed that she had been bullied by Patel in 2015.

The timing of the inquiry leak is not ideal for the government. As Politico’s Alex Wickham notes, “it’s anti-bullying week”.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at TheWeek.co.uk. He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.