Boris Johnson Backs Minister Accused of Bullying, Rejects Ethics Report

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected calls to fire his Home Secretary despite a report finding she broke ministerial rules after being accused of bullying her staff.

Johnson's most senior ethics adviser led an inquiry into Conservative minister Priti Patel's behavior and found that she failed to meet the requirement of the Ministerial Code. Patel has always strongly denied allegations of bullying.

In the assessment of his findings, ministerial adviser Sir Alex Allan 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 behavior has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentional."

Ministers are usually expected to resign if they breach the code. This was not explicitly recommended in Allan's report, but the code itself sets out that "harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behavior is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and will not be tolerated."

The most recent minister to resign over a breach of the code was Damian Green in 2017 after an investigation found that he lied about pornographic images found on his work computer.

Allan was critical of some civil servants in the Home Office, Patel's department, saying they had not always been as "flexible" as they could have been in "responding to the Home Secretary's requests and directions."

"There was no evidence that suggests she was aware of her behavior and no feedback was given at the time," Allan found.

The prime minister, however, rejected Allan's ruling that Patel's behavior amounted to a breach of the code. In a statement, the government said Johnson considered Allan's conclusions "carefully" but did not accept that Patel "had not consistently met the high standards expected of her under the Ministerial Code."

"As the arbiter of the code, having considered Sir Alex's advice and weighing up all the factors, the prime minister's judgment is that the Ministerial Code was not breached," the statement reads.

Allan has announced his resignation as a result of the PM's decision. In a statement issued immediately after Johnson's, the ethics adviser said: "I recognize that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgment on whether actions by a Minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code.

"But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position as the Prime Minister's independent adviser on the Code."

Priti Patel, Britain's Home Secretary at No10
A Cabinet Office investigation was launched in March over allegations that Priti Patel belittled colleagues and clashed with senior officials Leon Neal/Getty

Labour leader Keir Starmer suggested Johnson should have fired Patel based on the report's findings. "Yet again, the Prime Minister has been found wanting when his leadership has been tested," he said on Twitter.

"If I were Prime Minister, the Home Secretary would have been removed from her job."

Labour, Britain's opposition party, has demanded the publication of the full inquiry findings into the allegations against Patel, accusing Johnson of presiding over a "cover-up" after it emerged Allan's report would not be made public.

Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: "This has all the hallmarks of a cover-up from the Prime Minister and raises fundamental questions about his judgment. His actions are all but condoning bullying in the workplace."

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 says the claims are "false" and allies have described her as a "demanding" boss, but not a bully.

Following the publication of the report's findings, the home secretary issued an apology and said: "I am sorry that my behavior in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone.

"I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the government's agenda. I care deeply about delivering on the commitments we have made to the people of this country and I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated.

"I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support. The permanent secretary and I are working closely together to deliver on the vital job the Home Office has to do for the country."