Home Secretary Priti Patel may have to give evidence at an employment tribunal following claims she forced out the Home Office’s most senior civil servant. Ms Patel is also accused of bullying staff and allowing a press briefing campaign to go ahead against Sir Philip Rutnam who resigned in February.
In Sir Philip’s claim for constructive dismissal, he names Ms Patel as a respondent which could mean the Home Secretary is called as a witness when the tribunal case is heard in a tribunal next September. Ms Patel, however, insists she is the victim of a politically-motivated campaign.
The Government will likely try to block its minister from taking the witness stand during the 10-day hearing. No secretary of state has ever been taken to an employment tribunal by a senior civil servant before.
After his resignation, Sir Philip made a televised statement in which he claimed to have been a target of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign”. He claims that there were allegations that he had briefed the media against the Home Secretary, which he maintains are entirely false. Sir Philip claims several other civil servants had repeatedly raised concerns about Ms Priti’s behaviour. He accuses the Home Secretary of “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”.
There are also reports that a senior Home Office official collapsed following a heated meeting with Ms Patel. She is also accused of requesting that another senior official be moved from their job. Sir Philip claims that Ms Patel’s behaviour created a culture of fear in the department, and it took bravery to call it out.
Sir Philip is using whistleblowing laws to pursue his claims which means that there is no upper limit to the payout he could receive should his case be successful.
Sir Philip’s allegations triggered a Cabinet Office investigation. However, seven months later, the findings of the investigation have yet to be reported. Ms Patel herself says she has not read the final report. However, the media claims the inquiry clears her of any serious wrongdoing.
Supporters of the Home Secretary insist she is the victim of a deliberate campaign by civil servants who oppose her strident pro-Brexit views and plans to cut immigration. She recently announced her latest plans for a two-tier asylum system that will see people be put to the asylum queue if they reach Britain by illegally crossing the Channel.
Sir Philip was just the first in a series of permanent secretaries to quit their post this year, following the Government’s reform of the civil service driven by Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief aid. It’s believed that several others have also quit their civil servant posts after falling out with ministers, although they so far haven’t gone public.
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