Days after home secretary Priti Patel and the top civil servant in the Home Office, Philip Rutnam, jointly dismissed reports of alleged bullying by the former, Rutnam resigned on Saturday and took the extraordinary step of going public with the reasons for his resignation.
According to Rutnam, his experience in recent days had been “extreme”, adding that he had received allegations that her conduct included “shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out”.
Accusing Patel of orchestrating a campaign against him, he said in a video statement to the BBC: “In the last 10 days, I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign. It has been alleged that I have briefed the media against the home secretary”.
“This – along with many other claims – is completely false. The home secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her. She has not made the efforts I would expect to dissociate herself from the comments.”
“Despite my efforts to engage with her, Priti Patel has made no effort to engage with me to discuss this. I believe that these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive, unfair dismissal and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts”.
“My experience has been extreme, but I consider there is evidence that it was part of wider pattern of behaviour. One of my duties as permanent secretary was to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our 35,000 people”.
“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out”.
Patel has been the subject of reports of allegedly not being trusted by Britain’s intelligence agencies, who reportedly hold back information from her. She is also accused of trying to ease out some officials – such reports have been strenuously denied.
Rutnam’s resignation adds a new twist to swirling reports about Patel’s style of working. He said he would sue the government for constructive dismissal.
The resignation comes days after cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill hit out at “unattributed briefings” and leaks in the media, saying they “besmirched the country’s hard-won reputation for good governance”.
In an email to bureaucrats, Sedwill said “candour, confidentiality and courtesy” between ministers, civil servants and special advisers were “crucial to the trust and confidence on which good government depends.”
FDA, the union for senior public servants, said Rutnam’s resignation was a consequence of people making anonymous claims about civil servants “who are unable to publicly defend themselves”.