Civil Service boss warns staff to stop briefing against Priti Patel

Civil Service boss Sir Mark Sedwill warns staff to stop briefing against Home Secretary Priti Patel and says the back-biting is ‘besmirching’ the UK’s reputation

  • Sir Mark Sedwill writes to civil servants to warn against ‘unattributable briefings’ 
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel is said to be ‘livid’ over claims that she bullied staff
  • Allegations emerged after she allegedly tried to have Sir Philip Rutnam removed 
  • Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday threw his weight behind Miss Patel 

Britain’s top civil servant yesterday tried to end the toxic briefing war engulfing Priti Patel at the Home Office.

In a highly unusual intervention, Sir Mark Sedwill wrote to civil servants to warn that ‘unattributable briefings and leaks to the media’ were ‘besmirching this country’s hard-won reputation for good governance’.

The Cabinet Secretary’s comments follow days of extraordinary briefings about relations between Miss Patel and Sir Philip Rutnam, who is permanent secretary at the Home Office.

Allies of Home Secretary Priti Patel are urging Sir Mark to move Sir Philip to a new role in Whitehall. No 10 yesterday confirmed that the appointment of permanent secretaries was ‘a matter for the Cabinet Secretary’

The Home Secretary is said to be ‘livid’ over claims that she bullied staff and was cut out of security briefings by MI5 – allegations that emerged after she allegedly tried to have Sir Philip removed.

The Home Office issued a joint statement from the pair on Sunday saying they were ‘deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media’.

But a Whitehall source said relations between them had completely broken down, adding: ‘Can they continue to work together? I just don’t know. No 10 is going to have to sort it out because it is completely dysfunctional.’

Boris Johnson yesterday threw his weight behind Miss Patel, with Downing Street saying the Prime Minister had ‘full confidence’ in the Home Secretary. 

The Cabinet Secretary’s comments follow days of extraordinary briefings about relations between Miss Patel and Sir Philip Rutnam, pictured above, who is permanent secretary at the Home Office

Asked to give the same endorsement to Sir Philip, the PM’s official spokesman ducked the question, replying: ‘The Prime Minister has full confidence in the civil service.’

A Home Office source predicted Sir Philip would see off Miss Patel.

‘Officials will not stop until they have got rid of Priti,’ they said. 

‘When Amber Rudd was home secretary she did all she could to win over the department, but she was the one who lost her job when it all went wrong. Priti may be safe for now, but when it next goes wrong they’ll make sure she is the one who ends up out of the door.’

Allies of Miss Patel are urging Sir Mark to move Sir Philip to a new role in Whitehall. 

No 10 yesterday confirmed that the appointment of permanent secretaries was ‘a matter for the Cabinet Secretary’.

In his message to staff last night, Sir Mark was careful not to take sides. He referred to ‘recent stories of tensions within Whitehall’.

He said the ability of ministers and officials to talk candidly and courteously was ‘crucial to the trust and confidence on which good governance depends’.

Boris Johnson yesterday threw his weight behind Miss Patel, with Downing Street saying the Prime Minister had ‘full confidence’ in the Home Secretary

He added: ‘Both should be confident that this advice, and any debate that surrounds it, will remain private and that everyone will at all times adhere to the high standards set out in the civil service, special adviser and ministerial codes.’

Senior Tories rallied round Miss Patel. Security minister James Brokenshire said reports of bullying were ‘absolute nonsense’.

And former environment secretary Theresa Villiers suggested Miss Patel was the victim of Whitehall sexism.

She acknowledged that the Home Secretary was a ‘tough and demanding’ minister, but told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme: ‘I am sick of these spiteful briefings against women in high office.’

No 10 has denied claims that Miss Patel is not fully trusted by MI5. A security source said the report in The Sunday Times was ‘untrue’.

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