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British PM stands by minister found to have bullied staff

November 24, 2020
By Jill Lawless/The Associated Press

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson refused to fire or censure his interior minister on Friday despite an investigator’s conclusion that she bullied members of her staff.

A report said Home Secretary Priti Patel had not met the standards required of a government minister, and concluded her behaviour fit the definition of bullying.

Cabinet ministers found to have breached the ministerial code are generally expected to resign. But the government said the prime minister had “full confidence” in Patel and “considers this matter now closed.”

Johnson’s adviser on ministerial standards Alex Allan, who led the investigation into Patel, resigned instead, saying he could not continue in his job.


“I recognize that it is for the prime minister to make a judgment on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the ministerial code,” Allan said. “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.”

Investigation began in March

Patel has been under investigation since March after several civil servants accused her of bullying. The top civil servant in the Home Office, Philip Rutnam resigned that month, saying Patel had belittled employees and fostered an environment of fear in the department. She denied the allegations.

The investigation’s conclusions were published Friday after months of delay by Johnson’s office.

Allan concluded that Patel “has not consistently met the high standards required by the Ministerial Code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect.”

He said there were “occasions of shouting and swearing” that had upset people, though he accepted that Patel may not have intended to have that effect.

“Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals,” Allan said. “To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.”

He said that Patel also felt, “justifiably in many instances,” that there was a lack of support and responsiveness from senior civil servants.

Patel said she was “sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people,” though she stopped just short of apologizing for the behaviour itself.

“I’m here to give an unreserved apology today and I am sorry if I have upset people in any way whatsoever,” she told the BBC. “That was completely unintentional.”

Patel acknowledges frustration

In a separate statement, Patel said “I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated.”

“I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the government’s agenda,” she said.

Opposition politicians accused the prime minister of condoning bullying. The prime minister’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, insisted Johnson took allegations of bullying “exceedingly seriously.”

“He loathes bullying,” Stratton said. “It is not his belief that Priti Patel is a bully.”

Patel was appointed by Johnson to the key post responsible for immigration and crime-fighting after his December 2019 election victory. A law-and-order hard-liner, she has vowed to stop migrants trying to cross the English Channel from France in small boats, though without much success.

She was fired as International Development Secretary by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, for holding unauthorized meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials during a private trip to the country.

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