NEWS
20/11/2020 10:39 GMT | Updated 20/11/2020 13:03 GMT

Priti Patel Bullying Report: Here's What We Know

Sir Alex Allan has resigned after Boris Johnson overruled his findings that the home secretary breached the ministerial code.

Chaos erupted after Boris Johnson’s standards chief resigned over the PM’s decision to stand by Priti Patel despite an investigation finding the home secretary guilty of bullying

Sir Alex Allan’s report found that Patel had “not consistently met the high standards expected of her”, and that her conduct “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying”. 

But Johnson, who has the final say, decided the ministerial code had not been breached. 

Patel apologised on Friday, saying she was “sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people”.

Here’s what we know about Patel’s case, and the contents of the report.

What were the allegations?

A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that  Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments.

It followed the resignation of the Home Office’s permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, who accused Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him and is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.

Patel has always denied the allegations, expressing concern at the “false” claims. Allies have described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.

Will we ever actually see the report? 

It is unlikely that the full report on the inquiry will ever be made public.

Instead, a short assessment of the report’s findings has been released by Allan. 

The revelation that the full report will not be made public has been met with anger by Labour MPs, who have accused the government of a “cover-up” and demanded the details be made public. 

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said suggestions that Boris Johnson would not sack Patel showed “all the hallmarks of a prime ministerial cover-up”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme before Johnson’s decision: “I think we need to see the full report, it needs to be published in full, line by line, and the home secretary and the prime minister need to come to parliament to answer questions because the revelations in recent days have been extraordinarily serious.

“I’m afraid this really does have all the hallmarks of a prime ministerial cover-up and raises questions about his judgment.

“If what has been reported is correct, then it is tantamount to the prime minister condoning bullying.”

What do we know about what’s in it? 

Reports of what the investigation found began to emerge on Thursday and while details are still scarce, Allan’s statement has shone more light on what allegations Patel had been faced with.

The adviser said Patel’s frustrations had seen her shout and swear in some instances.

In his published advice, he said: “She is action-orientated and can be direct.

“The home secretary has also become – justifiably in many instances – frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness and the lack of support she felt in DfID (the now defunct Department for International Development) three years ago.

“The evidence is that this has manifested itself in forceful expression, including some occasions of shouting and swearing.

“This may not be done intentionally to cause upset, but that has been the effect on some individuals.”

Crucially, he found that the home secretary’s conduct could amount “to behaviour that can be described as bullying” by individuals. 

He said: “The home secretary has not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.

“Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals.”

But Allan did say Patel’s conduct needed to be viewed “in context”, adding that there was “no evidence” she knew the impact of her behaviour as “no feedback was given to her at the time.”

He continued: “The high pressure and demands of the role, in the Home Office, coupled with the need for more supportive leadership from top of the department has clearly been a contributory factor.

“In particular, I note the finding of different and more positive behaviour since these issues were raised with her.”

What does the ministerial code say about bullying?

The 36-page ministerial code mades two references to bullying – one of which is made explicitly in the foreword by Johnson in August 2019. 

As part of an overview of the rules he wrote specifically: “There must be no bullying and no harassment.” 

The actual detail of the code states: “Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the ministerial code and will not be tolerated.” 

Normally, ministers are expected to resign if they breach the code. 

While other advisers are frequently involved, the decision on whether or not there has been a breach of ministerial code is ultimately at the discretion of the PM. 

Patel has been here before. She was forced to quit as development secretary in 2017 after freelance meetings with senior Israeli government figures including PM Benjamin Netanyahu while on a summer holiday in the country.

She was forced to publicly apologise for not informing the Foreign Office of the meetings, but suggested that Johnson – foreign secretary at the time – knew in advance of her visit.  

Then-prime minister Theresa May was forced to call Patel into No.10 at the time to discuss with her a possible breach of the code.

What has Patel said? 

In a statement on Friday morning Patel said: “I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.

“I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the Government’s agenda.

“I care deeply about delivering on the commitments we have made to the people of this country and I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated.

“I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support.

“The permanent secretary and I are working closely together to deliver on the vital job the Home Office has to do for the country.”

How have Tory MPs reacted so far? 

After refusing to sack Patel, the PM reportedly sent a Whatsapp out to Tory MP’s urging them to “form a square around the prittster”. 

It appeared to mark a continuation of the strategy used by Tory MPs as they faced questioned from journalists on Thursday evening and Friday morning. 

Before even apparently reading the report, Tory MP James Cleverly defended Patel on BBC Question Time on Thursday evening. 

He said: “Well I haven’t seen the report and I am incredibly uncomfortable speculating about the contents of a report that I haven’t seen or pontificating about what actions might be taken from that. 

“I know Priti Patel very well, she’s a neighbouring MP of mine and I have known her from long before either she or I became MPs and my observation of her is that she has always expected and demanded that people work hard. 

“I think that is a completely legitimate attitude to take into government. The Home Office is the department that keeps us safe, it has to deal with some incredibly important and sensitive issues, and that does mean that people need to be decisive and hardworking.”

Cleverly continued: “It is the job of ministers to make sure that departments function at their ultimate output.” 

At that point Labour MP Emily Thornberry interjected, adding: “Not by bullying people. You don’t get optimal output by bullying people, do you? 

“You do it by challenging them, and you do by being clear, but you don’t do it by bullying people. You know that.” 

Health secretary Matt Hancock also defended Patel on Friday morning, telling BBC Breakfast he felt “very proud” to serve in a cabinet with her.

“I think she’s doing an excellent job and is an excellent home secretary and really delivering on things that matter to people,” he said.

“In all the dealings I’ve ever had with her she’s been nothing but courteous.”

Leader of the commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said Patel was a “formidable home secretary” and an “asset to government”, and senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said the home secretary has support across the party because she is “hard working, determined and has been very kind to many”.

What have the opposition said? 

Within minutes of the PM’s conclusion, leading Labour figures came out in force to condemn the decision. 

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Yet again, the Prime Minister has been found wanting when his leadership has been tested. If I were Prime Minister, the Home Secretary would have been removed from her job.

“It is hard to imagine another workplace in the UK where this behaviour would be condoned by those at the top.

“The government should be setting an example. Instead, it is one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends, another for everyone else.

“The prime minister has previously said he ‘loathes bullying’. Yet when one of his own ministers is found to have bullied their staff he ignores the damning report sat on his desk and instead protects them.

“In the interest of transparency, the report into Priti Patel’s conduct and any drafts should now be fully published and the Prime Minister and Home Secretary should come to the House on Monday to face questions on their conduct.”

Responding to the findings Jess Phillips, the Labour MP and shadow minister for domestic violence, tweeted: “What an utter disgrace.

“While the government asks the entire country to stick to the rules it also cannot in good faith say that rules don’t apply to them.

“Any Tory seeking to defend this is utterly without reason or comprehension.

“In all my years of working with those who have suffered at the hands of those who use power to control and bully people I can tell you that when people get away with it it makes their behaviour worse where you might think it made them cautious, it doesn’t.”

Labour MP David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, tweeted that Johnson’s decision was “another spineless, hypocritical and pathetic failure of leadership”.