UK PM Johnson backs Priti Patel as minister despite bullying claims

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LONDON, Nov 20 (PTI): UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday backed his Cabinet minister Priti Patel, despite a Cabinet Office inquiry into allegations of bullying concluding that she had breached the Ministerial Code, albeit “unintentionally”.

While ministers are usually expected to resign if they breach the code, it ultimately rests with the prime minister on whether to take any action on the independent Ministerial Code adviser’s findings.

Johnson, who has consistently supported Patel ever since the allegations first emerged earlier this year, declared that he still has “full confidence” in the 48-year-old Indian-origin minister, who holds one of the UK’s highest political offices as Home Secretary.

It has, however, led to the resignation of Alex Allan, the independent adviser on the Ministerial Code, as the decision seems to go against the findings of his report.

“My advice is that 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,” his report notes.

“To that extent, her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally. This conclusion needs to be seen in context. There is no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour, and no feedback was given to her at the time,” it reads. The report takes note of the high pressure and demands of the UK Home Office role and the need for more supportive leadership from the top of the department as a “contributory factor”.

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

Patel, seen as a close and loyal ally of Johnson, released a statement saying she was sorry “that my behaviour in the past has upset people”.

And, a Cabinet Office statement said the UK prime minister has “full confidence” in his Home Secretary and considers “this matter now closed”.

“He [Johnson] is reassured that the Home Secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those with whom she was working. He is also reassured that relationships, practices and culture in the Home Office are much improved,” reads the government statement. However, the issue is likely to continue to play out for some time, especially after Allan’s resignation.

“I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code. But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister’s independent adviser on the Code,” reads Allan’s statement. The developments on Friday follow an eight-month-long saga, during which Johnson was accused of deliberately delaying action on the results of the internal inquiry which concluded a few months ago.

An investigation into bullying allegations against Patel was launched in March, with the Cabinet Office asked by the Prime Minister to “establish the facts” over whether the Home Secretary breached the Ministerial Code.

It followed the dramatic resignation of the UK Home Office’s most senior civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, amid allegations of bullying. His departure as the Home Office’s Permanent Secretary is still the subject of an employment tribunal, with Rutnam pursuing a claim for constructive dismissal against the government department.

Earlier, after the findings of the Cabinet Office inquiry report were leaked on Thursday night, many of Patel’s colleagues came out in her support.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said she was “an excellent Home Secretary and really delivering on things that matter to people,” while International Trade Secretary Liz Truss called her “compassionate, determined, hardworking and professional”.

Patel has consistently rejected all of the allegations against her, while her supporters claimed she had been the victim of a smear campaign. The Opposition Labour Party accused the government of a cover-up and said the issue “smacks of one rule for the government and one rule for everyone else”.

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