Sir Philip Rutnam resigns: Priti Patel's top civil servant quits with stinging attack on Home Secretary

Stephanie Cockroft
pa

The top civil servant at the Home Office has quit with an explosive attack on Priti Patel, accusing her of "belittling" staff and orchestrating a "vicious" campaign against him.

Sir Philip Rutnam dramatically resigned from his post on Saturday morning, following persistent reports of a major rift between him and the Home Secretary.

In a scathing statement, Sir Philip claimed the campaign against him included “false” claims that he had briefed the media against Ms Patel. He described his alleged treatment as "part of a wider pattern of behaviour", including Ms Patel reportedly creating "fear" in the department through "belittling people and making unreasonable demands".

Sir Philip also claimed the Cabinet Office had offered him a "financial settlement" to "avoid this outcome", but that he had turned that down and planned to sue the government for constructive dismissal.

His bombshell resignation led to calls for the Prime Minister to put a stop to what some claim is a campaign by his chief adviser Dominic Cummings to undermine the civil service. It comes two weeks after Sajid Javid quit as Boris Johnson’s Chancellor after the PM order him to fire his team of aides.

Sir Philip said he had “encouraged” the Home Secretary, pictured with Boris Johnson, to “change her behaviours” (PRU/AFP via Getty Images)

Reading out a statement on BBC News on Saturday, Sir Philip said: "In the last 10 days I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign. It has been alleged that I have briefed the media against the Home Secretary.

"This, along with many other claims, is completely false.”

Sir Philip went on: “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 effort I would expect to dissociate herself from the comments.

“Even despite this campaign, I was willing to effect a reconciliation with the Home Secretary.

“But despite my efforts to engage with her, Priti Patel has made no effort to engage with me to discuss this.

“I believe these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive, unfair dismissal and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.”

Ms Patel has been the subject of a string of reports which suggested she had clashed with senior officials.

One report suggested Ms Patel had tried to move Sir Philip from her department after they had a series of rows . Sir Philip made light of those reports when he appeared at a police summit in London on Thursday, saying: "You probably have already heard a great deal more about permanent secretary’s in the last few days than you ever expected to.”

Ms Patel and Sir Philip were also forced to fire off a heavyweight denial of the allegation that MI5 did not trust her, an accusation seen as very serious because it suggested she was unable to do her job properly.

Ms Patel expressed concern at the “false” claims while allies described her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully .

The swirl of reports about turmoil in the Home Office also prompted Downing Street to insist on Monday that the Prime Minister has “full confidence” in Ms Patel.

Sir Philip has been a civil servant for more than 30 years (PA)

Head of the civil service Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill later told all civil servants that advice they give ministers and “any debates” around it should remain “private”.

Giving his statement on Saturday, Sir Philip said he had “encouraged” the Home Secretary to “change her behaviours” as his duties included “protecting the health, safety and well-being” of staff.

He went on: “My experience has been extreme but I consider there is evidence that it was part of a wider pattern of behaviour.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands. Behaviour that created fear and needed some bravery to call out.”

He added: “I know that resigning in this way will have serious implications for me personally – the Cabinet Office offered me a financial settlement that would have avoided this outcome.

“I am aware that there will continue to be briefing against me now I have made this decision, but I am hopeful that at least it may not now be directed towards my colleagues or the department."

Ms Patel has been the subject of a string of reports which suggested she had clashed with senior officials (PA)

He said that it had been a "very difficult decision", but added: "I hope that my stand may help in maintaining the quality of Government in our country."

Responding to Sir Philip’s resignation, Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA, the senior public servants’ union, said it “demonstrates once again the destructive consequences of anonymous briefings against public servants who are unable to publicly defend themselves.”

He added: “This cowardly practice is not only ruining lives and careers, but at a time when the Home Office is being tasked with delivering a demanding Government agenda on immigration, and preparing for a public health emergency, it has diverted energy and resource in to responding to unfounded accusations from sources claiming to be allies of the Home Secretary."

He said Sir Philip “had a choice to resign and go quietly with financial compensation. Instead he has chosen to speak out against the attacks on public servants.

“I know many thousands of his colleagues will recognise the courage and integrity he is showing in doing so and will applaud his decision.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons home affairs committee, said the situation was “appalling” (parliamentlive.tv)

And he added: “Only the Prime Minister can put a stop to this behaviour and unless he does so, he will have to accept his own responsibility for the consequences.”

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the Commons home affairs committee, said it was “appalling” that the situation at the Home Office was allowed to deteriorate to such a level that the permanent secretary chose to publicly resign and pursue legal action against the Government.

The former cabinet minister said: “The allegations made by Sir Philip Rutnam are very serious and this reflects extremely badly on the Government, not just the Home Office.

“To end up with one of the most senior public servants in the country taking court action against one of the great offices of state shows a shocking level of breakdown in the normal functioning of government."

A statement from Cabinet secretary and head of the civil service Sir Mark Sedwill thanked Sir Philip for his “long and dedicated career of public service”, while announcing that Shona Dunn will become acting permanent secretary.

“I have received and accepted with great regret the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam,” he said. “I thank him for his long and dedicated career of public service.

“The Home Office’s vital work to keep our citizens safe and our country secure continues uninterrupted.”