Boris Johnson faces legal challenge over backing Patel’s bullying claims

London: The UK government faces a legal challenge to Boris Johnson’s decision to back Priti Patel over bullying allegations. Alex Allan, independent advisor on the ministerial code to Johnson had resigned last year after the prime minister chose not to act on a critical report about Patel. 

The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, has bought a judicial review of PM Johnson’s decision, probing the legal status of the ministerial code. The matter will now be heard at the Royal Courts next week. 

A Cabinet Office investigation had cited instances in which Patel had shouted and sworn at staff. Allan found that Patel had displayed “behavior that can be described as bullying” and that she had “not consistently met the high standards expected of her.” Allan’s report suggested that she had breached the ministerial code, even if unintentionally. 

Johnson decided she had not breached the code. 

“The prime minister’s decision, which reflected the home secretary’s assertion that her actions were unintentional, also potentially allows ministers to avoid the consequences of their behavior in future by pleading that it should be the intent of their actions which is important, not the consequences,” Dave Penman, the secretary-general of FDA said. 

Decisions on whether MPs and ministers have breached their code of conduct in the UK are taken by the cross-party committee for standards that report it to the House of Commons. But the prime minister is the ultimate arbiter of whether the ministerial code has been broken – and Johnson chose to override Allan’s findings in Patel’s case. 

Patel reportedly reached a six-figure settlement with the former permanent secretary of her department, Sir Philip Rutnam, after claiming that he was forced out of his job for intervening in her alleged bullying. He had threatened to take the home secretary Patel to an employment tribunal hearing while she has consistently denied those claims and rejected allegations of bullying. 

The report from the independent committee on standards in Public Life, published last week, urged the government to strengthen the powers of the independent advisor on ministers’ interests – currently Lord Geidt, who succeeded Allan.    

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