The Labour party has demanded the findings of an official inquiry into Home Secretary Priti Patel's alleged bullying of staff at three separate government departments be made public "as soon as possible".
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds has called on Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove to update Parliament on the inquiry at the first opportunity.
"At a time when additional powers are being assumed by the government, the imperative that the public are completely assured of the conduct of senior ministers is even greater. As a result we are calling on you to ensure that the findings of the inquiry are published as soon as possible,” Labour wrote in a letter sent to Gove last week, to which he hasn’t responded.
People wondering why Downing Street announced Carrie’s pregnancy on February 29 need to understand it was to divert attention away from the Priti Patel scandal as her Perm Sec quit that day very publicly. This is partly why pregnancy seems “short.”— David Yelland (@davidyelland) April 29, 2020
Commenting on press reports that Patel has been cleared of bullying, Dave Penman, general secretary of the First Division Association, an organisation representing senior civil servants, said such complaints required "independent investigation free from political influence".
"It tells you everything that is wrong with investigations under the Ministerial Code that a process which is not written down, which contains no rights for those who might complain, that is determined in secret, alone by a prime minister who has already pledged his allegiance to the minister in advance, and which allows no right to transparency or challenge for anyone who complained, would then be leaked on the evening before the home secretary is due to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee,” he told the BBC.
The investigation was launched by Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and the report is being compiled by senior Cabinet Office official Helen McNamara and senior civil servant Alexander Allan.
Patel is scheduled to be grilled by MPs on how her department has handled the coronavirus outbreak during a virtual hearing of the Home Affairs Select Committee 29th April - she last appeared 23rd October 2019, and has been accused by committee chair Yvette Cooper of avoiding public scrutiny during the crisis. Cooper has dispatched six letters to the Home Secretary over the last three months to set a date for her to give evidence - Patel didn’t reply to several of the missives and declined invitations to attend.
Whatever the inquiry’s outcome, it’s just the latest controversy to engulf Patel - a former British American Tobacco lobbyist and staunch supporter of the death penalty who suggested using the threat of food shortages as leverage in negotiations with Ireland over the Brexit ‘backstop’, Patel was forced to resign as International Development Secretary in November 2017 after it was revealed she’d had 12 secret meetings with Israeli government officials in August that year without apprising her own department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office or the Prime Minister, a serious breach of the ministerial code.
Priti Patel has been cleared of bullying her staff.— THE BLACK SALTIRE#FBSI (@80_mcswan) April 28, 2020
Then you learn the
Cabinet secretary carried out the investigation
Any such investigation should be independently conducted.
Despite initially claiming she’d been in Israel “on a family holiday” she herself paid for, the meetings were arranged by Israel lobbyist Stuart Polak, a member of the House of Lords, and key figure in the Conservative Friends of Israel group. As a result, she was accused of trying to win favour with wealthy pro-Israeli Conservative donors, seeking funding for a potential future leadership campaign.
After returning from Israel, Patel reportedly asked fellow officials whether a portion of the UK aid budget could be provided to the Israeli army’s ‘humanitarian operations’ in the Golan Heights, part of southern Syria occupied by Israel during the Six Day War in 1967 and formally annexed in 1981.
“Two issues were raised by the Secretary of State on her return. One related to aid currently being provided by the Israeli army for those in Syria who could not get medical assistance or cross the border to get it from the Israeli Defence Forces…The Department’s view is aid to the IDF in the Golan Heights isn’t appropriate, we do not do that, and that was the advice given,” her deputy Alistair Burt said in answer to a parliamentary question 7th November 2017.
Whitehall’s refusal to grant aid to projects in the Golan Heights stems from not recognising the annexation, a long-standing policy of which Patel may have been entirely unaware.
Conversely, it seems like Patel was aware some of the Israeli army’s humanitarian operations in the area include military field hospitals which are used to treat jihadists wounded in the Syrian war, including members of factions linked to al-Qaeda - as she visited such a medical facility during one of her secret trips to Israel.