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Priti Patel advised not to 'swear and shout' at staff last year, former civil servant says

Priti Patel was advised not to “swear and shout” at staff last year, a civil servant who resigned amid bullying allegations against the minister has said.

Sir Philip Rutnam stepped down as the Home Office’s permanent secretary accusing her of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him.

The government’s adviser on ministerial standards Sir Alex Allan said in his advice that there was “no evidence that (Ms Patel) was aware of the impact of her behaviour and no feedback was given to her at the time”.

Priti Patel advised not to 'swear and shout' at staff last year, former civil servant says

But in a statement issued by the FDA union, Sir Philip said: “I have a high regard for Sir Alex Allan and regret his resignation, but I was at no stage asked to contribute evidence to the Cabinet Office investigation which gave rise to his advice to the Prime Minister.

“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.

“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.

“Enormous efforts were made from top to bottom in the Home Office to support the new Home Secretary and respond to her direction, and significant achievements have resulted. The advice does not fairly reflect this.”

It comes after Ms Patel praised “brilliant civil servants” in her first televised comments since being forced to apologise.

The home secretary said she was “sorry that my behaviour has upset people”, adding that she had “never intentionally set out to upset anyone”.

She continued: “I work with thousands of brilliant civil servants every single day and we work together, day in, day out, to deliver on the agenda of this government.

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Priti Patel advised not to 'swear and shout' at staff last year, former civil servant says

“And I’m absolutely sorry for anyone that I have upset.”

Her comments followed a ruling from Sir Alex, which found she was “in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally”.

But Boris Johnson disagreed, deciding that his home secretary had not breached the code over bullying accusations, prompting Sir Alex to resign.

A government source said Sir Alex quit because the prime minister ignored his advice.

A breach of the ministerial code usually leads to a prime minister – the ultimate arbiter of the code – asking the minister in question to step down.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson had been “found wanting when his leadership has been tested”, adding that if he were prime minister, Ms Patel would have been sacked.

“It is one rule for Boris Johnson and his friends, another for everyone else,” said Sir Keir.

But the prime minister said he had full confidence in his home secretary and “considers this matter now closed”.

It also emerged that he had urged Tory MPs, in a WhatsApp message, to “form a square around the Prittster”.

Sir Alex said Ms Patel had “not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code of treating her civil servants with consideration and respect”.

He also found evidence of “shouting and swearing” from Ms Patel during her time as a minister in different government departments.

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Priti Patel advised not to 'swear and shout' at staff last year, former civil servant says

On occasions, her approach “amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals”, he added.

“To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally,” he said.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the prime minister had been “reassured that the home secretary is sorry for inadvertently upsetting those whom she was working with”.

“He is also reassured that relationships in the Home Office are much improved, and that’s the basis on which he took the decision,” the spokesman added.

In addition, Downing Street pointed to “mitigating factors” around Ms Patel’s behaviour, as outlined in Sir Alex’s findings.

The senior official noted how – “justifiably in many instances” – Ms Patel had been “frustrated” by civil servants’ “lack of responsiveness” and her feelings of a “lack of support”.

He added there had been “different and more positive behaviour” from Ms Patel since the issues were first raised with her.

The inquiry into Ms Patel’s behaviour followed the resignation of the Home Office’s most senior civil servant, Sir Philip Rutnam, in February, amid widespread reports of a bitter feud between himself and Ms Patel.

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