UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s adviser has said that the government should publish the report on alleged bullying by Priti Patel as ‘secrecy’ surrounding the investigation risked undermining public confidence.
Lord Evans of Weardale, former head of MI5 and current chair of the committee on standards in public life, has said that the delay in publishing the report would give the impression that the allegations had been “brushed over”.
Patel was investigated by the Cabinet Office over allegations that she bullied civil servants in the Home Office and previous departments where she had worked.
The inquiry began more than eight months ago and the report is still to be published.
In an interview with The Times, Lord Evans has said that there was a strong case for Johnson to step back from the process of investigating ministerial misconduct to restore confidence.
“An independent figure would decide when it was necessary to investigate ministers and make their report public. It would be up to the prime minister to decide what action to take,” he said.
He further said that he was not making any judgment on individual cases but the public needed to have ‘confidence’ in the wider system.
Lord Evans also had concerns over the failure to carry out an independent investigation into the housing secretary Robert Jenrick.
He was accused of overruling planning inspectors to approve a development championed by Richard Desmond. Jenrick had sat next to the property developer and Tory donor at a fundraising dinner and kept in contact with him.
Lord Evans pointed out that giving the impression to the public that these allegations have been brushed over is not ‘ideal for public trust and public standards’.
“The Priti Patel case would be an example. The Cabinet Office has done some form of investigation. It has not been published so it is very difficult to know whether there was something here or whether there wasn’t,” he told The Times.
“The same applies in the allegations regarding Robert Jenrick. The decision was taken that those did not need to be further investigated. I am not calling what the facts are because I don’t know, but nor does anybody else, because there hasn’t been an investigation.”
According to him it would be better for the investigation to be instigated independently when some allegations come up and after finding out the facts the prime minister can take a decision.
The committee on standards in public life was set up after the cash for questions scandal in the 1990s. Its remit is to advise the prime minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life.
Lord Evans, who was appointed chairman in 2018, said it was important that the committee kept abreast of public concerns and remained relevant.
The committee’s latest investigation into standards in public life is expected to report in the middle of next year with a series of recommendations to the prime minister.