The revelation comes amid claims the Prime Minister tried to persuade Sir Alex Allan to tone down his conclusion amounted to bullying – with Sir Alex resigning in the wake of Mr Johnson’s decision not to act following the publication of his report. Mr Johnson told Conservative MPs in a private WhatsApp group it was time to “form a square around the prittster”.
Sir Alex had been asked to investigate after claims Ms Patel belittled officials in meetings, made unreasonable demands and created an “atmosphere of fear”.
His report said she had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code”, though he said there was “no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour”.
However, one government source said that after reading the report Mr Johnson had been “very clear he wanted to stand by her”.
Boris Johnson has ordered Tory MPs to “form a square” around Home Secretary Priti Patel
Home Secretary Priti Patel
He then called Sir Alex to ask him to tone down his findings by stressing there was were no clear examples of bullying at the Home Office which breached the Ministerial Code.
A Cabinet Source said: “He read all of it and didn’t think Alex’s findings accorded with the evidence itself.
“He spoke to Alex and asked him if he’d change the tone of it. Alex said no.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer says he would have sacked Ms Patel
Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam resigned after the revelations and is now suing for constructive dismissal.
A No 10 spokesman said: “As you would expect, the prime minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the issues.
“Sir Alex’s conclusions are entirely his own.”
Addressing the report’s findings, Ms Patel said: “I’m sorry that my behaviour has upset people and I’ve never intentionally set out to upset anyone.”
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Sir Philip Rutnam
She also insisted the issues had not been pointed out to her – although Sir Philip subsquently released a statement through the FDA union for civil servants saying that he was “at no stage asked to contribute evidence” to the investigation.
He added: “The advice states that no feedback was given to the Home Secretary and that she was therefore unaware of issues that she might otherwise have addressed. This is not correct.
“As early as August 2019, the month after her appointment, she was advised that she must not shout and swear at staff.
Iain Duncan Smith mounted a staunch defence of Ms Patel
“I advised her on a number of further occasions between September 2019 and February 2020 about the need to treat staff with respect and to make changes to protect health, safety and wellbeing.”
After the publication of the report, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith tweeted: “I’ve worked with @pritipatel for a number of years & always found her to be strong, robust & determined to get the job done, she’s a hard working & good Home Secretary.
“There is a history of poor civil service leadership at the Home Office & the report is critical of that.”
Speaking to Express.co.uk at the House of Commons earlier this year, Mr Duncan-Smith said of the bullying allegations: “It’s completely ridiculous really.
Iain Duncan Smith’s tweet
“Civil servants, many of whom I’ve worked with, are brilliant, excellent people who get on with it and don’t get involved in this nonsense.
“But there are some who have decided for whatever reason they want to make life difficult for her and that’s nonsense.
“And the good ones will tell them shut up, we’ve had enough of this.
Priti Patel factfile
“It gives a bad reputation to the civil service.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said were he in Mr Johnson’s place he would have sacked Ms Patel.
He added: “It is hard to imagine another workplace in the UK where this behaviour would be condoned by those at the top.”
Former Home Office permanent secretary Sir David Normington criticised Mr Johnson on BBC Radio 4’s flagship Today programme this morning.
He said: “There needs to be a recognition from her and the Prime Minister that she was found to have bullied staff, possibly in three departments not just the Home Office, and that is completely unacceptable.
“The Prime Minister has simply put aside the findings of a report, and of the independent adviser Sir Alex Allan, that she is a bully and you shouldn’t have bullies in government.
“We have to put ourselves in the position of the bullied. No one has spoken up for them, some of them are junior staff and who will be sitting there today thinking that their voice has not been heard and you cannot rely on the Prime Minister to stand up for them.
“For the first time as far as I can remember we have a prime minister that doesn’t seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life.”