SOURCES close to Priti Patel have trashed reports that she was avoiding official interactions with Sir Philip Rutnam.
The home secretary’s allies alleged that it was the permanent secretary who had skipped a scheduled meeting yesterday (27).
Reports of a “toxic battle” between the two have been doing the rounds, and Patel has been targeted by a barrage of hostile briefings after an article claimed she had been trying to oust Sir Philip.
The latest round of sparring saw a source telling The Times that Patel had been avoiding one-on-ones with Sir Philip permanent secretary, and terming the state of affairs “utterly dysfunctional”.
A senior source, however, told MailOnline that the claims were “total b******s”, adding that it was Sir Philip who “didn’t show” at a meeting fixed on Thursday (27).
The civil servant was also alleged to have “blocked” the Home Office from issuing a statement clarifying that “all meetings have taken place in the usual way”.
The latest round of allegations and counters followed a Huff Post report that accused Patel of trying to expel a senior official on Christmas Eve.
A source said Patel wanted Sir Philip to shunt communications director Andy Tighe out of the department.
But the permanent secretary reportedly refused to heed, considering the timing of the request, and the former BBC journalist later retired from the post.
Patel’s allies dismissed the story as “a complete lie”.
Sir Philip, meanwhile, made an unusual public appearance at the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners summit on the day he allegedly skipped a meeting with Patel.
“You probably have already heard a great deal more about permanent secretary’s in the last few days than you ever expected to,” he quipped.
“But be reassured, I am not got to talk about that. I am going to talk about what really matters, which is cutting crime and building a law enforcement system that is more capable, more resilient and better placed for the future.”
Incidentally, according to reports, the feud between Patel and Sir Philip started last September after the top official “tried to stand in the way of an announcement that more police would be allowed to carry tasers”.
A Conservative party source said Sir Philip was “quite clearly” trying to “discredit a home secretary who is shaking things up a bit to try and salvage what little is left of his reputation”.
Another source with “inside” information alleged that Sir Philip “spends his time politicking rather than running the actual department”.
“You would sit in meetings with Rutnam and Priti would say: ‘Where are you with this issue?’ and he would say: ‘I will have to get back to you on that,’” said the source.
Even as rumour mills were in full swing, the Home Office maintained that “the home secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media”.
“They are focused on delivering on the Home Office’s hugely important agenda, which includes creating an immigration system that works for the UK, putting more police on the streets and keeping the public safe from terrorism,” said a rare joint statement.
Taking note of the mudslinging, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, too, made a rare intervention as he wrote to civil servants that “unattributable briefings and leaks to the media” were “besmirching this country’s hard-won reputation for good governance”.