In Brief

Hancock defends Patel as bullying storm worsens

Senior civil servant quit claiming a ‘vicious and orchestrated’ campaign against him

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has described Priti Patel as “courteous" following bullying claims made by the former top civil servant in her department.

The defence came after Philip Rutnam, the Home Office's most senior official, hit the headlines when he resigned on Saturday blaming a “vicious and orchestrated” campaign against him.

Rutnam said he received allegations that Patel's conduct towards employees included “swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”. He said he now intended to take legal action against the Home Office on the basis of constructive dismissal.

“This has been a very difficult decision but I hope that my stand may help in maintaining the quality of government in our country – which includes hundreds of thousands of civil servants, loyally dedicated to delivering this government’s agenda,” he said.

Allegations that Patel bullied staff emerged two weeks ago in The Times, which reported she had been accused of belittling officials in meetings, making unreasonable demands and creating an “atmosphere of fear”. Then, The Guardian reported that she was accused of emerging from an office saying: “Why is everyone so f***ing useless?”

Rutnam claims that in the wake of these reports he was briefed against by sources said to be from either Downing Street or allies of Patel. He was accused of being unable to do his job, of being undeserving of his pension, and was compared to Eeyore, the ponderous donkey character from AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that a formal complaint about Patel's conduct was made when she was employment minister at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Although a spokesman for Patel said she was “not aware” of the complaint, a Whitehall insider said she had created a "hostile and unhappy" environment for civil servants by questioning their capability and undermining their performance. 

The Observer says Patel is expected to face questions in Parliament about her behaviour. Labour leadership front runner Keir Starmer said: “The home secretary has a duty to come to parliament on Monday to explain the allegations made about her own conduct.”

The shadow chancellor John McDonnell told Sky News the situation was “unprecedented” and suggested that Patel was “on the way out”.

The episode is the latest in a series of controversies between Boris Johnson’s government and Whitehall aides. It comes two weeks after Sajid Javid dramatically quit as chancellor when Boris Johnson ordered him to fire his team of aides.

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