Boris Johnson was yesterday accused of attempting to water down an official report that found Home Secretary Priti Patel had bullied her staff.
Ministerial standards adviser Sir Alex Allan quit his Downing Street post on Friday after the Prime Minister took no action against Ms Patel despite her being found to have breached the ministerial code.
According to Whitehall officials, the Prime Minister had earlier asked Sir Alex to tone down his report to suggest there was no clear evidence of bullying. One official said that Mr Johnson was given the report and a pile of evidence in May but “was very clear he wanted to stand by her”.
He reportedly asked Sir Alex to water down his findings and to say there were no clear examples of bullying at the Home Office. The official 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.”
Downing Street did not deny the claims, with a No 10 spokesman instead saying: “As you would expect, the Prime Minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the report. Sir Alex’s conclusions are entirely his own.”
But shadow Home Office minister Holly Lynch said the “initial, unedited report” must be published in full and called for an independent investigation.
She said: “These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies.”
Sir David Normington, a former Home Office permanent secretary, criticised Mr Johnson for contradicting Sir Alex to find the Home Secretary is not a bully.
Sir David said: “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 are junior staff who will be sitting there today thinking 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.”
Conservative peer Ken Clarke, a former home secretary, said he was “troubled” by the “very awkward situation”.
Ms Patel offered what she described as an “unreserved, fulsome apology”, but also highlighted Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour.
However, Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit as the Home Office’s permanent secretary after accusing Ms Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him, refuted this.
He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff the month after her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect “on a number of further occasions”.
Sir Philip also said he was not interviewed for the inquiry despite having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.
Lord Evans, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said Sir Alex’s resignation was “deeply concerning” and that his committee would look “urgently” at what had happened as part of its review of the ministerial code.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said it was up to Mr Johnson whether or not to sack Home Secretary Priti Patel but said the full report should be published.
He said: “That’s a decision for the Prime Minister, he has reviewed the whole report and the Home Secretary has apologised. But ultimately it is the choice for the Prime Minister who sits at his Cabinet table.
“I actually think there’s an argument we do see the full detail of these reports.”
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