Labour MPs have accused the government of orchestrating a “cover-up” after it emerged that a long-awaited report on alleged bullying by home secretary Priti Patel would not be released publicly.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said suggestions that Boris Johnson would not sack Patel showed “all the hallmarks of a prime ministerial cover-up”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we need to see the full report, it needs to be published in full, line by line, and the home secretary and the prime minister need to come to parliament to answer questions because the revelations in recent days have been extraordinarily serious.
“I’m afraid this really does have all the hallmarks of a prime ministerial cover-up and raises questions about his judgment.
“If what has been reported is correct, then it is tantamount to the prime minister condoning bullying.”
The prime minister is set to deliver his verdict on the report on Friday.
Here’s what we know about it.
What are the allegations against the home secretary?
A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials in three different departments.
It followed the resignation of the Home Office’s permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam, who accused Patel of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” against him and is claiming constructive dismissal at an employment tribunal.
Patel has always denied the allegations, expressing concern at the “false” claims. Allies have described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.
A government spokesperson said: “The process is ongoing and the prime minister will make any decision on the matter public once the process has concluded.”
Will we ever actually see the report?
It is unlikely that the full report on the inquiry will ever be made public.
While we’re not expecting to see the details, a one-page assessment of the report’s findings by the PM’s adviser on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allan, is expected to be released.
According to The Times, he concluded: “My advice is that the home secretary has not always met the high standards of the code in treating civil servants with respect.
“Instances would meet the definition of bullying. To that extent her behaviour has been in breach of the ministerial code even if unintentional.”
The revelation that the full report will not be made public has been met with anger by Labour MPs, who have accused the government of a “cover-up” and demanded the details be made public.
What do we know about what’s in it?
The BBC reported on Thursday evening that the draft report concluded that Patel had broken rules on minister’s behaviour.
Sources “familiar with the contents” told the BBC that the inquiry had concluded that the “home secretary had not met the requirements of the ministerial code to treat civil servants with consideration and respect”.
Furthermore, the source reportedly said that the investigation had in fact found evidence of bullying – even if it “had not been intentional”.
Another source told political editor Laura Kuennssberg that the report was “unambiguous in stating that Priti Patel broke the ministerial code and that the prime minister buried it”.
The Guardian reported along similar lines, adding that “some in government will claim that Patel’s behaviour towards staff had been ‘unintentional’, because she was unaware of the effects of her actions.”
The Financial Times added that instead of dismissing Patel, the PM may issue her with a written warning. Other publications, such as Sky News, have suggested the PM may not even go that far – but could force her to apologise.
The report is believed to have been finished for several months without any of the findings being made public, with sources telling the FT that Johnson is intending to “fudge” the outcome – which they say includes “robust criticisms” of Patel’s behaviour.
What does the ministerial code say about bullying?
The 36-page ministerial code mades two references to bullying – one of which is made explicitly in the foreword by Johnson in August 2019.
As part of an overview of the rules he wrote specifically: “There must be no bullying and no harassment.”
The actual detail of the code states: “Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour wherever it takes place is not consistent with the ministerial code and will not be tolerated.”
Normally, ministers are expected to resign if they breach the code.
While other advisers are frequently involved, the decision on whether or not there has been a breach of ministerial code is ultimately at the discretion of the PM.
Patel has been here before. She was forced to quit as development secretary in 2017 after freelance meetings with senior Israeli government figures including PM Benjamin Netanyahu while on a summer holiday in the country.
She was forced to publicly apologise for not informing the Foreign Office of the meetings, but suggested that Johnson – foreign secretary at the time – knew in advance of her visit.
Then-prime minister Theresa May was forced to call Patel into No.10 at the time to discuss with her a possible breach of the code.
How have Tory MPs reacted so far?
Before even apparently reading the report, Tory MP James Cleverly defended Patel on BBC Question Time on Thursday evening.
He said: “Well I haven’t seen the report and I am incredibly uncomfortable speculating about the contents of a report that I haven’t seen or pontificating about what actions might be taken from that.
“I know Priti Patel very well, she’s a neighbouring MP of mine and I have known her from long before either she or I became MPs and my observation of her is that she has always expected and demanded that people work hard.
“I think that is a completely legitimate attitude to take into government. The Home Office is the department that keeps us safe, it has to deal with some incredibly important and sensitive issues, and that does mean that people need to be decisive and hardworking.”
Cleverly continued: “It is the job of ministers to make sure that departments function at their ultimate output.”
At that point Labour MP Emily Thornberry interjected, adding: “Not by bullying people. You don’t get optimal output by bullying people, do you?
“You do it by challenging them, and you do by being clear, but you don’t do it by bullying people. You know that.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock also defended Patel on Friday morning, telling BBC Breakfast he felt “very proud” to serve in a cabinet with her.
“I think she’s doing an excellent job and is an excellent home secretary and really delivering on things that matter to people,” he said.
“In all the dealings I’ve ever had with her she’s been nothing but courteous.”
Leader of the commons Jacob Rees-Mogg said Patel was a “formidable home secretary” and an “asset to government”, and senior Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said the home secretary has support across the party because she is “hard working, determined and has been very kind to many”.