A union representing senior civil servants has announced it is launching a judicial review seeking to “overturn” Boris Johnson’s ruling that Priti Patel did not breach the ministerial code.
The summary of his findings said that Ms Patel’s behaviour, which was said to include some occasions of shouting and swearing, had “been in breach of the ministerial code, even if unintentionally”.
As the ultimate arbiter of the ministerial code, Mr Johnson, however, judged that the code was not breached and said the government considered the matter “closed”. He also urged Conservative MPs to “form a square around the Pritster”.
But in a statement on Friday, the FDA union said it could not allow the to “simply let this issue rest”, as it announced legal action to “overturn” the prime minister’s decision in November.
General secretary Dave Penman said: “Civil servants should expect to work with ministers without fear of being bullied or harassed. Warm words from the prime minister have no meaning if the process for addressing those behaviours has been fundamentally undermined by his actions.”
“His decision, which he said reflected the home secretary’s assertion that her actions were unintentional, also potentially allows ministers to avoid the consequences of their behaviour in future by pleading that it should be the intent of their actions which is important, not the consequences.”
Explaining the legal action, he went on: “Our judicial review, launched today, would seek to overturn the prime minister’s decision that the home secretary’s conduct did not breach the ministerial code.
“This is not about whether the home secretary should be forced to resign, that is a matter for the prime minister, this is simply about how the ministerial code is interpreted.
“The prime minister, who is also minister for the civil service, needs to recognise the damage he has done to confidence in the ministerial code. In a survey of FDA members who are most likely to work with ministers, nearly 90 per cent said they had no confidence in the Ministerial Code as a mechanism for dealing with bullying and harassment by ministers.
“Even at this late stage, I urge the prime minister to work with the FDA to amend the ministerial code to ensure it is fit for purpose and to introduce a transparent and independent process for dealing with complaints.”
After a summary of the report into Ms Patel’s behaviour was made public last year, the home secretary issued an apology which she described as “fulsome”, saying that she was “sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people”, but insisted it had not been her intention to do so.
She added: “I am very grateful for the hard work of thousands of civil servants who help to deliver the government’s agenda.
“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.”