Boris Johnson 'asked investigator to water down' Priti Patel bullying report

  • Video report by ITV News Political Reporter Shehab Khan

Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to pressure his standards advisor to water down the official inquiry which found Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied staff and broke ministerial conduct.

Downing Street did not deny suggestions that Mr Johnson had tried and failed to convince Sir Alex Allan to tone down his conclusion that her behaviour amounted to bullying as he found instances of shouting and swearing.

The adviser quit on Friday when the Prime Minister overruled his conclusion that Ms Patel breached the ministerial code and stood by his Home Secretary.

Offering what she described as an “unreserved, fulsome apology”, Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex’s finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour.

But 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, contested this.

Shehab Khan on the latest from the Priti Patel's inquiry

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 him having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.

Meanwhile, the Times reported two unnamed senior Whitehall officials saying that the Prime Minister tried and failed to get Sir Alex to tone down his report to find there was no clear evidence of bullying.

Downing Street did not deny the report, 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.”

Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch said the “initial, unedited report” must be published in full and called for an independent investigation.

Sir Alex Allan, Lord Geidt’s predecessor, also resigned from the post Credit: PA

“These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies,” the Labour MP said.

Sir Alex found Ms Patel had not always treated civil servants with “consideration and respect” and concluded that her approach on occasions “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”.

He said Ms Patel 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”.

The Home Secretary apologised and said there were “no excuses” for what happened but highlighted Sir Alex’s assessment of her awareness.

She told the BBC that “any upset that I’ve caused is completely unintentional and at the time, of course it says it’s in the report, that issues were not pointed out to me”.

Later on, Sir Philip released a statement through the FDA union for civil servants saying that he was “at no stage asked to contribute evidence” to the investigation.

“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,” he said.

“As early as August 2019, the month after her appointment, she was advised that she must not shout and swear at staff.

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“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.”

Former home secretary Ken Clarke said sometimes a minister has to be “robust” with civil servants, but he condemned any form of bullying.

“You don’t shout at them or have rows with them, but you’ve got to hold your ground – you take their advice, you discuss it with them properly,” Lord Clarke said during a Times Radio interview.

“But you do have to realise that in the end you make the decisions and the department does deliver what you have decided furthers the Government’s policy.

“Junior officials, occasionally they will annoy you but in every walk of life the boss should not start bullying the younger, newer people who work for him or her.”

Mr Johnson, who is the ultimate arbiter of the ministerial code, judged that Ms Patel did not breach the rules and continues to have “full confidence in her” and “considers this matter now closed”.

The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans of Weardale, 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.

Mr Johnson’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “The Prime Minister does personally take these allegations exceedingly seriously. He loathes bullying.

“He did say that he would not tolerate bullying. He hasn’t tolerated bullying. It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.”

Downing Street indicated that the full report into Ms Patel’s conduct would not be published in order to protect those who gave evidence.