• Tuesday, June 28, 2022

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Allies call Priti Patel a ‘superb minister’, as Labour urges her to quit

Cabinet minister Michael Gove announced a probe into allegations against Home Minister Priti Patel, who he described as “a superb minister doing a great job”. (Photo: Leon Neal/Getty images)

By: Eastern Eye Staff

PRITI PATEL seems to have no breathing space in the controversy over her style of working.

With reports surfacing on a civil servant’s suicide attempt after Patel allegedly lambasted her, critics urged the home secretary to relinquish duties until her name was cleared of bullying charges.

The Labour party mounted pressure, with shadow home secretary Diane Abbott telling BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday (3): “You can’t have a government that’s at war with its civil servants.

“We want a genuinely independent inquiry—a lawyer-led inquiry and something that can be seen to be independent. I’m afraid it would be better if she stepped down. We are calling on her to step down whilst the inquiry goes on.”

The BBC had reported on Monday (2) that the official had overdosed on prescription medicine after Patel, as employment minister, yelled her to “get lost” and “get out of her face” during a discussion in October 2015.

The junior employee also alleged that she was dismissed because Patel did not “like her face”.

The broadcaster said the woman, who worked with the Department for Work and Pensions, raised a complaint on unfair dismissal, harassment, victimisation and discrimination, but the issue was settled for £25,000 in April 2017.

Patel’s spokesperson said “the home secretary completely rejects all allegations made against her”.

The latest bombshell came on the same day when the government ordered an inquiry into the bullying claims against Patel.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson maintained he had “absolutely every confidence” in Patel, who was doing an “outstanding” job on a “tough beat” at Home Office.

Johnson, however, ordered the Cabinet Office to “establish facts” after a “toxic war” at Home Office that saw Sir Philip Rutnam resigning as permanent secretary.

Sir Philip, who turned emotional, said: “I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands—behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said in the House of Commons on Monday (2): “A minister in breach of the ministerial code cannot remain in office and should be dismissed.”

Cabinet minister Michael Gove said there would be a “thorough, rapid, independent and authoritative” probe into the “legitimate” complaints against Patel.

He, however, said Patel “absolutely rejects” the claims against her. He also slammed the alleged attempts to “besmirch” the home secretary’s image.

“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,” added Gove.

Tory MPs rushed to Patel’s support. While Julian Lewis alleged she had been a target of “smears and sexism”, Robert Halfon accused the civil service of triggering a row by “briefing against the Home Secretary”.

Conservative MP Mark Fletcher, too, said a sexist campaign was on against Patel. “There seems to be a pattern between the appointment of female home secretaries and vicious briefings in the media against them,” he said.

“Is it possible that some of these unelected men have a problem with taking instructions from powerful women?”

Some MPs wondered why Patel was not getting sufficient “support from Number 10” at a time when she did not have a chief of staff and media special adviser.

Channel 5 presenter Jeremy Vine went on to bluntly predict that the home secretary would be “out of work in six months, guaranteed”.

“I think we know that if you cross the civil service they always get you, always,” he said.

“You just can’t defeat the machine.”

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union, which represents top civil servants, said the announcement of a Cabinet Office probe was “far short of an independent inquiry” that was demanded.

“The government is establishing an inquiry that civil servants are expected to have trust in, whilst, at the same time, ministers stand at the dispatch box and pledge their confidence in the home secretary,” he said.

“We will of course work with the cabinet secretary in relation to his inquiry. However, the decision is symptomatic of the broader concerns we have on the lack of an independent, transparent and fair process for investigating and determining complaints.”

 

Eastern Eye

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