Sir Philip Rutnam, the top civil servant at the Home Office has quit his post citing a “vicious and orchestrated campaign” against him by the home secretary Priti Patel.
The Home Office permanent secretary – who has 33 years experience working in Whitehall –announced his resignation today (Saturday) and said he intends to sue the government for constructive dismissal.
Rutnam’s resignation statement is reverberating shockwaves around Whitehall and Westminster following more than a week of reports about the home secretary’s “bullying behaviour” and her efforts to get the civil servant sacked.
‘I regret I do not believe her’
“In the last 10 days, I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign,” Rutnam said in a statement, released to BBC News.
“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 disassociate herself against from the comments.”
Rutnam said that even “even despite this campaign” by Patel he was “willing to effect a reconciliation” with her, “as requested by the cabinet secretary on behalf of the prime minister.”
However, despite his efforts to “engage with her… Patel has made no effort to engage with me”.
Rutnam believes he has “very strong grounds to claim constructive, unfair dismissal – and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.”
‘I have encouraged her to change her behaviours’
The extraordinary statement – described in the Telegraph as “a highly unusual move” and by the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuennsberg as “nothing remotely normal” – continues, with Rutnam calling the experience “extreme” and “part of a wider pattern of behaviour”.
He dismissed allegations he has ever briefed against the home secretary as “completely false” and said one of his duties “as permanent secretary was to protect the health, safety and well-being of our 35,000 people.” This had created tension with Patel, “and I have encouraged her to change her behaviours.”
Starmer demands Patel explains her conduct to Commons
Keir Starmer – the former shadow home secretary and Labour leadership frontrunner – demanded Patel explains herself to the Commons on Monday, given the “very serious allegations about the conduct of the Home Secretary”.
“It is unprecedented that a senior civil servant has raised concerns like this in such a public way,” said Starmer on Twitter, adding the permanent secretary’s resignation is further “evidence of a serious breakdown of government.”
“The prime minister’s handling of the flooding and coronavirus has been woeful, advisers in Number 10 are out of control, and attacks on the civil service are growing. I would therefore call on the liaison committee to hold an urgent inquiry into the culture and workings of government,” Starmer tweeted.