COLLEAGUES defended British interior minister Priti Patel on Friday(20) after the BBC and other media reported that an inquiry looking into claims of bullying against her concluded she had broken ministerial rules.
British prime minister Boris Johnson asked officials in March to carry out the inquiry to “establish the facts” after allegations were raised against Patel, one of the most senior ministers in the government.
That followed the resignation of Philip Rutnam, the top official in the interior ministry, who alleged Patel had been guilty of bullying staff.
Citing unnamed sources, the BBC, other broadcasters and UK newspapers said a draft report found Patel had broken the ministerial code – stating that ministers should treat officials with respect – and that there was evidence of bullying, albeit “unintentional”.
“In my extensive dealings with Priti Patel she’s been nothing but courteous and kind,” health minister Matt Hancock, who said he had not read the report, told Sky News, echoing other messages of support on Twitter.
Patel has always rejected accusations of bullying.
The report by the government’s independent adviser on standards was concluded in the summer, but Johnson has not published it, leading to accusations he was staging a cover-up.
The issue comes at a difficult time for Johnson, who is trying to reset his government after his top adviser Dominic Cummings left Downing Street last week and the prime minister grapples with divisions in his ruling Conservative Party over his Covid-19 policies.
“The process is ongoing and the prime minister will make any decision on the matter public once the process has concluded,” a government spokeswoman said following the media reports.
Some media reports suggested that Johnson might address the matter on Friday but would issue no reprimand to Patel.
His government has had an uneasy relationship with senior officials, with several leaving their posts since his election win last December, as part of what was viewed as Cummings’ desire to shake up the civil service.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said the full report should be published and the Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life should investigate Johnson and Patel.