London: A top cabinet ally of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in charge of executing major planks of his post-Brexit agenda, apologised on Friday after an official inquiry into bullying allegations.
“I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people. It has never been my intention to cause upset to anyone,” Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement.
“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.”
A long-awaited report by Johnson’s adviser on ministerial standards, Alex Allan, found Patel had “not consistently met the high standards expected of her”.
“Her approach on occasions has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals,” he wrote.
“To that extent, her behaviour has been in breach of the Ministerial Code, even if unintentionally.”
But Johnson - who last week lost another abrasive ally, his top adviser and “Brexit brain” Dominic Cummings - stood by the embattled Patel.
He judged her behaviour did not amount to a breach of the code of conduct. Allan said that was a matter for the prime minister, then resigned.
Under a cloud
Patel, already sacked once from government for holding secret meetings with Israeli leaders, has been under a cloud since her powerful department’s top civil servant quit in February.
Philip Rutnam announced he was suing the government for constructive dismissal after reporting allegations by staff “that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”.
Johnson launched an internal inquiry into the claims but reportedly sat on the findings for at least two months, prompting claims by opposition parties of a cover-up.
But his hand was forced when outlines of Allan’s report were leaked to The Times newspaper.
One official serving under Patel when she was an employment minister in 2015 took an overdose of prescription drugs after Patel had harangued her, the BBC reported in March.
Patel, like Cummings, was prominent in the 2016 “Vote Leave” campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, and is in charge of counter-terrorism, immigration, crime and policing.
She is a key right-wing ally and, with her family roots in western India, is representative of Johnson’s desire to have a diverse team of ministers.
Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May sacked her as international development secretary in November 2017 after she held 12 secret meetings while on a family holiday in Israel, including with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.