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Friday, November 20, 2020

No consequences?

The news that a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying by Priti Patel has found evidence that she broke the ministerial code is a damning indictment of the culture that pervades at the Home Office. These are serious allegations and need a serious response. 

However, all the indications are the Prime Minister is not proposing to move against her, leaving the ministerial code, which is meant to have zero tolerance of bullying, in tatters.

The Home Secretary was accused of bullying her department's most senior civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam back in February, shortly before he resigned. Sir Philip accused Ms Patel of spearheading a "vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign" against him, and that he had received allegations of Ms Patel "shouting and swearing, belittling people" and "making unreasonable and repeated demands". In April he formally launched legal action against the Government claiming "constructive dismissal".

The Guardian reports that Boris Johnson, the sole arbiter of the rules, is expected to release a decision on the inquiry within weeks but it is not likely to demand the home secretary’s resignation:

Sources familiar with the inquiry said it had found evidence that civil servants were treated poorly by Patel, as well as compelling evidence of bullying.

Pressure on the prime minister to sack Patel is growing as a result of claims of bullying and harassment from civil servants in three separate government departments.

Speculation over the inquiry has prompted condemnation of the Cabinet Office inquiry process, which is conducted in secret and offers no recourse for complainants. Johnson has already been criticised for compromising the process by insisting before the inquiry had ended that he would continue to support Patel.

This is not the first time that the ministerial code has proved to be not worth the paper it is written on, nor is that confined to Westminister. There are similar weaknesses in the devolved administrations. Surely it is time it was given some teeth.

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