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Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel following resignation of Home Office official

Stefan Rousseau/PA

Boris Johnson backs Priti Patel following resignation of Home Office official

Boris Johnson has thrown his weight behind the "fantastic" Priti Patel amid pressure for an inquiry into the resignation of her top Home Office official in a bullying row.

The Prime Minister said he "absolutely" had confidence in the Home Secretary, who was hit by the dramatic resignation of her department's top mandarin Sir Philip Rutnam on Saturday.

Rutnam quit in a televised statement, saying he had been the victim of "a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign" by allies of the Home Secretary.

The outgoing Home Office permanent secretary said he would be pursuing a constructive dismissal case against the Government, as he accused Patel of failing to "disassociate herself" from attacks on him. He also claimed that Patel had shouted and sworn at her staff.

But, speaking during a visit to North London, Johnson said: "I absolutely do have confidence in Priti Patel.

"I think she's a fantastic Home Secretary. It's never an easy job, it is one of the toughest jobs in government.

"There is a big big task ahead of us, we are delivering at last a new immigration system... it will take a lot of work by the Home Office."

The Prime Minister said he was also "full of admiration for our civil service and the job that they do".

But the FDA union, which represents senior officials and will be supporting Sir Philip in his constructive dismissal case, said a lack of public support from Johnson had contributed to the Home Office chief's decision to quit.

In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, seen by The Times, the union has also demanded an overhaul of the process by which officials can raise complaints against ministers.

FDA general secretary Dave Penman said civil servants needed confidence that claims against "some of the most powerful individuals in the country" would be treated fairly.

"That process simply does not currently exist," he wrote.  "The events of the last few weeks, including public statements from ministers, and indeed the Prime Minister, relating to these matters, only reinforces the concerns that any complaint would be subject to political influence."

The BBC reports that Patel was also the subject of a formal complaint about her behaviour when she served as an employment minister at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Patel was accused of creating a "hostile and unhappy" environment for officials, with the claims centering on her private office staff.

But a spokesperson for Patel said they were "not aware" of the complaint, while the UK Government declined to comment on personnel issues. 

Labour has already called on the Home Secretary to come before the House of Commons on Monday to answer questions.

The party's leadership frontrunner Sir Keir Starmer has demanded that the Commons Liaison Committee holds "an urgent inquiry into the culture and workings of government", alongside an "an immediate investigation into the circumstances surrounding Sir Philip Rutnam’s departure" led by the Cabinet Secretary.

But allies of the Home Secretary have rushed to her defence, with longstanding Conservative Brexiteer Sir Iain Duncan Smith saying civil servants "need to know they are there to carry out the policy wishes of the Government".

The former Cabinet minister said: "This is a fight the Government has to win, otherwise all her colleagues will be dead in the water. There is still a group of civil servants who don't believe in Brexit and don't follow that there are things we can do now that we've left the EU."

Former transport minister Nus Ghani meanwhile suggested Patel had been treated more harshly because she is a woman.

"My experience of working with Priti is that she is incredibly determined," the Wealden MP told Sky News. "She provides strong leadership and she’s delivering some very important aspects of our policy."

But she added: "I do think it’s curious that if you’re providing leadership, if you’re determined, working at a fantastic pace, that within men that is seen as a fantastic skill and for women sometimes it’s seen as challenging."

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