In Depth

Behind the Home Office’s ‘civil war’ drama

Boris Johnson is advised against civil service cull amid damaging leaks against Home Secretary Priti Patel

Boris Johnson has been urged not to sack senior civil servants amid the ongoing deterioration in relations between ministers and public officials – particularly at the Home Office.

Tory sources claim that Johnson’s team has lined up a “shitlist” of senior mandarins that could soon face the chop, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

The list reportedly includes Sir Tom Scholar, the Treasury permanent secretary, who is seen as being “offside” on Brexit. Scholar previously led David Cameron’s attempted renegotiation with the European Union.

Speaking to the Financial Times, former head of the Foreign Office Peter Ricketts said the latest development in Downing Street’s war with the “establishment” would “destabilise” civil servants, who were doing their best to offer “impartial advice” to the government. 

Meanwhile, former Brexit secretary David Davis has warned Johnson against organising a “firing squad” for civil servants. 

During an appearance on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, Davis said: “There are ways of making government work better, there are ways of making the permanent secretaries behave better but it doesn’t involve making hitlists,” says The Independent.

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Reports that Downing Street has a number of senior civil servants in its crosshairs follow a string of damaging leaks against Home Secretary Priti Patel. 

MPs returned from recess today, but the prime minister’s first briefing of the week “is destined to be dominated by the Home Office civil war”, says The Telegraph.

Multiple sources told The Times last week that Patel had attempted to remove her permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, after “disagreements” between the pair. 

Describing Patel’s alleged clashes with Rutnam, a Home Office source told the paper: “Sir Philip and [she] have fundamental disagreements about the rule of law. He’s committed and she isn’t. She’s belittled him and caused consternation, and she frequently encourages behaviour outside the rule of law.”

Over the weekend it was reported that one of the Home Office’s most senior civil servants on immigration resigned after being made “uncomfortable” by Patel’s demands.

According to The Guardian, Mick Jones, of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), the largest trade union for Home Office staff, said that Patel’s approach to various immigration issues had led to Mark Thomson’s resignation as director general of UK Visas and Immigration and HM Passport Office.

This follows suggestions that MI5 has been withholding information from the home secretary and accusations that she has a record of bullying staff. She was accused of creating an “atmosphere of fear” in the Home Office by bullying and belittling officials, but Patel has denied all such allegations.

Patel is also said to have been “livid” over the claims that MI5 did not trust her or believed she was unable to grasp the subtleties of intelligence briefings.

So inflammatory were the reports that security sources took the unusual step of denying the suggestion that they are deliberately withholding information, while former environment secretary Theresa Villiers blamed the “spiteful” briefings against Patel on sexism.

Home Office minister James Brokenshire described the reports of bullying as “absolute nonsense”, telling Sky News: “Yes, she is demanding, but in that role you have to be because you are dealing with some of the most sensitive, some of the most challenging things that you have to deal with across government.”

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