Boris Johnson has been accused of trying and failing to “interfere” with the official inquiry into allegations of bullying by home secretary Priti Patel.
After refusing to sack Patel, despite a summary of the report released on Friday finding that her conduct “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying”, the PM is now facing allegations that he attempted to pressure his standards adviser into watering down his conclusion.
Downing Street has not denied suggestions that Johnson had approached Sir Alex Allan in a bid to tone down the report.
The adviser quit on Friday when Johnson overruled his conclusion that Patel breached the ministerial code with her behaviour towards staff, which Allan said included shouting and swearing.
Offering what she described as an “unreserved, fulsome apology”, Patel seized on the report’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 Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him, contested this.
He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff within weeks of her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect “on a number of further occasions”.
Crucially, Rutnam 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 PM tried and failed to get Allan 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.
“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.
Allan found 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 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 the report’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, Rutnam 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.
“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.”
Johnson, who is the ultimate arbiter of the ministerial code, judged that 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 Allan’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.
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 has indicated that the full report into Patel’s conduct would not be published in order to protect those who gave evidence.