Home Office boss resigns over 'vicious campaign against him'

29 February 2020, 11:51

Sir Philip Rutnam has resigned
Sir Philip Rutnam has resigned. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Top Home Office civil servant Sir Philip Rutnam has resigned following what he called "a campaign against him".

He has said he intends to sue the government for constructive dismissal.

Sir Philip said that there has been an "orchestrated" campaign against him.

The decision comes just days after reports of tensions between him and Home Secretary Priti Patel, who has been accused of "bullying her staff".

She denies all the allegations.

Sir Philip said he believed his experience was "extreme" but part of a "wider pattern" in the government.

In a statement, the civil servant said: "I have this morning resigned as permanent secretary of the Home Office.

"I take this decision with great regret after a career of 33 years.

"I am making this decision now because I am making a claim against the Home Office for constructive dismissal.

"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 has had a series of run-ins with Priti Patel
Sir Philip has had a series of run-ins with Priti Patel. Picture: PA

He 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."

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."

Sir Philip Rutnam was the top civil service in the Home Office
Sir Philip Rutnam was the top civil service in the Home Office. Picture: PA

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.

"The FDA has supported Sir Philip throughout this period and will continue to support him in his claim for constructive dismissal.

"He 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.

"The Home Office now needs to find new leadership at a time when it needs stability.

"Those who engage in anonymous briefings need to bear the responsibility for this destructive behaviour.

"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."

The Liberal Democrats have accused the Government of "outrageous" treatment of civil servants following Sir Philip Rutnam's decision to quit as permanent secretary to the Home Office.

Christine Jardine, the party's home affairs spokeswoman, said: "We need to be asking serious questions about the culture that is being created in the Home Office.

"The way these Conservatives are treating public servants and trying to undermine the rule of law is outrageous.
"The Tories are acting just like Donald Trump, putting ideology ahead of competence, and it's the British people who will pay the price."

Labour MP Stephen Doughty, a member of the Commons home affairs committee during the last parliament, has called on the Home Secretary to "explain herself" as soon as possible to MPs.

Taking to Twitter, he called Sir Philip's statement and resignation "utterly explosive".

"Chaos at the Home Office when it's supposed to be delivering highly controversial policies," he said.

"It is vital that Priti Patel comes to explain herself at the Commons home affairs committee ASAP."

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.

"For the Home Secretary and Prime Minister to have allowed things to reach this point is appalling, especially at a time when the Home Office faces crucial challenges with rising violent crime, forthcoming counter-terror legislation, new immigration laws, and sensitive negotiations on post-Brexit security co-operation."

Labour MP Ms Cooper urged Boris Johnson to "get a grip" on the "mess" that caused Sir Philip's resignation, calling for a fast-track investigation.

"Serious allegations have been made against the Home Secretary and these will now be pursued through an employment tribunal. However, tribunals can take months," she added.

"We cannot afford to have a dysfunctional and distracted Home Office while this tribunal is going on. The work of the Home Office and the Home Secretary is far too important for that.

"The Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary therefore have a duty to investigate these allegations to a much faster timetable so that the normal functioning of the Home Office can be restored.

"The Prime Minister and Cabinet Secretary need to get a grip of this mess quickly before it causes even more problems for the vital work of the Home Office."