Priti Patel humiliated staff and created sense 'everyone is hopeless'

Home Secretary Priti Patel faces ‘tsunami’ of bullying claims after ‘humiliating staff’ and fostering sense that ‘everyone is hopeless’ while head of Department for International Development

  • ‘Tsunami’ of claims have come from Department of International Development
  • They include allegations she humiliated civil servants in front of their colleagues
  • Ms Patel denies the allegations as allies say ‘dark forces’ are working against her  

Embattled Home Secretary Priti Patel is under fresh pressure amid claims she bullied staff at a third government department.

Ms Patel is facing allegations she humiliated civil servants and fostered a sense that ‘everyone is hopeless’ while in charge of the Department for International Development.

There is said to have been a ‘tsunami’ of complaints by officials in her private office when she was at DfID.

She has been accused of ridiculing and belittling staff, and exerting ‘heavy pressure’ in emails. 

Two senior civil servants at DfID have come forward to say they were aware of bullying complaints against Ms Patel. 

The latest allegations – furiously denied by Ms Patel – follows the resignation at the weekend of the top official at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, over similar claims.

Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives at The Home Office yesterday after attending a Cabinet Meeting

A former aide at the Department for Works and Pensions is also reported to have received a £25,000 payout from the Government after claiming she was bullied by Ms Patel when she was employment minister.

The latest claims, reported by the BBC’s Newsnight, relate to the period around 2017 when Ms Patel was sacked by Theresa May from DfID over unauthorised contacts with the Israeli government.

Following her dismissal, a senior official was said to have approached staff in her private offices about allegations that they had heard of bullying.

The senior figure was said to have been told of multiple claims of staff being humiliated and coming under heavy pressure in emails – similar to the allegations made about Ms Patel’s conduct at the Home Office.

The senior figure then went to see another senior figure in DfID and urged them to contact the then cabinet secretary – the late Sir Jeremy Heywood – so that her conduct recorded was “in the system” if she ever returned to government.

Although the person making the claims has not been named, they were said to be prepared to give evidence to the Cabinet Office inquiry currently under way into allegations she broke the ministerial code.

The individual concerned was also said to be ready to give evidence in support of Sir Philip – who is claiming constructive dismissal – if his case goes to an industrial tribunal. 

However, a Tory source told the BBC’s Newsnight there was a ‘concerted effort’ by sections of the Civil Service to undermine Ms Patel and that ‘dark forces’ were trying to influence the investigation.

A spokesman for Ms Patel said: ‘The Home Secretary categorically denies all of these allegations.’

The decision by two more civil servants to publicly criticise Ms Patel will increase pressure on the embattled Home Secretary, who is facing calls to temporarily step down while an inquiry is underway into her contact.

Sir Mark Lowcock, Ms Patel’s permanent secretary while she was head of DfID said that he personally witnessed bullying behaviour.

Nick Dyer, who took over from Sir Mark when he started a new role at the UN, was also made aware of complaints against Ms Patel.

The Times reported that Downing Street aides were also informed of the complaints made by civil servants working for Ms Patel.

‘We certainly knew the relationship with her civil servants was not easy,’ a special adviser in No 10 said. ‘There were concerns about her methods of working’. 

Sir Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, speaks at a press conference in December last year. Sir Mark, Ms Patel’s permanent secretary while she was head of DfID said that he personally witnessed bullying behaviour

Allies of Priti Patel yesterday blamed Sir Philip Rutnam for dragging her into a row about an aide who took an overdose amid claims of bullying.

Sources close to the Home Secretary said it was ‘ludicrous’ to accuse her of being responsible for the woman’s legal case against the Government, arguing that it had started long before Ms Patel took office.

The minister has been under fire for weeks after being accused of bullying staff during her time as a minister, and the Cabinet Office is leading an inquiry to ‘establish the facts’ over whether she breached the ministerial code in her dealings with aides.

Ms Patel came under renewed pressure on Monday when it emerged that one of her former aides when she was employment minister took an overdose and received a £25,000 payout from the Government.

She shouted at the woman in her private office and told her to ‘get lost’ and ‘get out of her face’, legal correspondence alleges.

 The minister is described in the woman’s formal grievance complaint as having acted ‘without warning’ and with an ‘unprovoked level of aggression’.

The Department for Work and Pensions did not admit liability and the case did not come before a tribunal, the BBC reported.

Nick Dyer, who took over from Sir Mark, said he was made aware of the bullying complaints against Ms Patel 

But yesterday Ms Patel’s allies hit back. One said: ‘What we are seeing is a concerted effort by certain sections of the Civil Service to undermine a Home Secretary trying to deliver what people want on crime and immigration.

‘It is deeply disturbing that dark forces are trying to influence the findings of a Cabinet Office inquiry.’

In a joint email to staff written with Sir Philip’s interim successor Shona Dunn, she insisted they cared about the wellbeing of all employees.

They expressed their gratitude to the staff for their continuing hard work and ‘commitment to deliver the Government’s priorities’.

‘We both deeply value the work that every person in this department does and care about the well-being of all our staff. It is therefore a time for us all to come together as one team,’ they wrote.

‘We also recognise the importance of candour, confidentiality and courtesy in building trust and confidence between ministers and civil servants.

‘Both of us are fully committed to making sure the professionalism you would expect to support this is upheld.’

Priti Patel arrives at Downing Street in London, Britain on February 13, 2020. Sources close to the Home Secretary said it was ‘ludicrous’ to accuse her of being responsible for the woman’s legal case against the Government, arguing that it had started long before Miss Patel took office

Sir Philip resigned on Saturday following an extraordinary briefing row with Ms Patel after he accused her of belittling staff in the department.

He said he had become the ‘target of a vicious and orchestrated campaign against him’, which he alleged she was involved in.

But Ms Patel’s friend said: ‘It’s actually very serious that a civil servant had mental health issues and attempted to take her own life because of the way she was treated by her civil service colleagues.

‘And it’s childish and stupid for anonymous friends of Philip Rutnam to push around false stories about civil service mistakes which she [Ms Patel] had nothing to do with.’

The row came after Boris Johnson asked the Cabinet Office to ‘establish the facts’ around bullying claims.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove said the inquiry will examine all the complaints, although it is unclear if the Department for Work and Pensions claim is included.

The PM has already offered his support, calling her a ‘fantastic Home Secretary’.

Yesterday, it emerged she has sent an internal email to staff saying she regretted Sir Philip’s resignation and calling on her department to pull together.

A video grab from footage broadcast by the UK Parliament’s Parliamentary Recording Unit (PRU) shows Britain’s former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam speaking before the Home Affairs Committee in Parliament, central London on February 27, 2019

Asked yesterday if Mr Johnson knew about the DWP allegation, his official spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary denies any allegations of bullying and the PM has expressed full confidence in her. An inquiry is under way.’

Boris Johnson has expressed his full confidence in Ms Patel, who he promoted to one of the great offices of state after she had previously been sacked from the Cabinet by Theresa May.

However, some Tory MPs have questioned how much longer she can carry on in the job, while Labour has complained the inquiry into her conduct – to be carried out by the Cabinet Office – is not fully independent.        

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