Kemi Badenoch has been accused of breaching the ministerial code over her public attack on a HuffPost UK journalist who asked the government a question.
The equalities minister provoked outrage with tweets about Nadine White, calling the reporter “creepy” for asking why Badenoch was not in a campaign video urging black and minority ethnic people to get a Covid vaccine.
Badenoch went on to tweet private emails White had sent to her office, saying it was “bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves”.
The move exposed White to online abuse and the reporter has locked her Twitter account.
Despite criticism over Badenoch’s actions, the minister has refused to apologise or remove the tweets. Downing Street, meanwhile, has distanced the prime minister from Badenoch’s outburst and blamed the incident on a “misunderstanding”.
Now, Labour shadow minister Marsha de Cordova has written to cabinet secretary Simon Case accusing Badenoch of breaching the ministerial code.
The rules govern the conduct of all Boris Johnson’s ministers of state. De Cordova alleges three breaches and has urged the top civil servant to take action.
It is said that Badenoch failed to maintain high standards of behaviour, be professional and treat others with respect and disclosed private information that was not in the public interest.
De Cordova also underlined to Case that the code stipulates “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the ministerial code and will not be tolerated”.
The shadow minister’s letter to Case reads: “Ms Badenoch’s actions last week fell well below the standards and behaviours expected of a government minister. The appropriate course of action, at the very least, would have been to professionally acknowledge the enquiry.
“Instead, by sharing the journalist’s name and contact details, Ms Badenoch has exposed Ms White to a torrent of abuse online which has necessitated the lockdown of her Twitter account.”
The Cabinet Office has confirmed it has received the correspondence and will respond.
Following sustained questioning over two days of briefings, Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton attempted to distance the prime minister from Badenoch’s actions on Tuesday.
Stratton praised White’s work and told reporters: “Kemi Badenoch felt the correspondence was something she should put in public domain.
“But that is a matter for Kemi Badenoch, it’s Kemi Badenoch’s decision.”
Stratton added: “That would not be how we in No.10 would deal with these things, and that we encourage all of you to ask us challenging, difficult questions as you are doing now.”
Asked if Badenoch should delete the tweet to draw a line under the issue, Stratton said: “I think this issue is best moved on from.
“I’m not in the business of telling ministers to delete tweets.”
The Council of Europe’s Safety of Journalists Platform has identified the incident as a potential threat to media freedom and the safety of journalists as guaranteed by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Mapping Media Freedom website, run by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, has recorded the attack as a “violation of media freedom”.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) on Monday condemned the “weird” abuse faced by White as a result of Badenoch’s “petty” tweets.
Michelle Stanistreet, general secretary of the NUJ, said: “Instead of condemning the unacceptable and uncalled for pillorying of a journalist simply doing her job, Number 10 has today dug in and defended a minister who should know better.
“Putting in questions to elected representatives is pretty standard journalistic practice and the response from Kemi Badenoch was frankly weird, completely out of order and an abuse of her privilege. As a result, Nadine has had to contend with a barrage of online and offline abuse and hostility.
“Elected representatives should be working to boost standards of public discourse, not indulging in petty outbursts that deepen hostility towards journalists and journalism.”