One of Priti Patel’s Home Office ministerial colleagues has dismissed claims that she is bullying officials, as the home secretary pushed for an inquiry into a series of damaging leaks about her approach in the department.
After the Home Office released a statement denying a rift between Patel and her most senior civil servant, and MI5 rejected reports it is witholding intelligence from her, James Brokenshire called the reports “absolute nonsense”.
Patel’s team has said she is “absolutely livid” about the allegations and has demanded an inquiry into the leaks to be carried out by the Cabinet Office. However, it is not clear whether a formal request has yet been made.
“Yes, she is demanding, but in that role you have to be because you are dealing with some of the most sensitive, some of the most challenging things that you have to deal with across government,” Brokenshire, the former communities secretary who has returned to government as a Home Office minister, told Sky News.
“I think the home secretary is absolutely focused on the public good, the agenda that we’ve set around policing, on immigration and indeed around counter-terrorism and security.”
Brokenshire said there had been “huge frustration” across the Home Office around some of the “false assertions that have been made publicly”.
In a rare public statement on relations between a minister and their officials, the Home Office denied on Sunday that Patel had tried to move the department’s permanent secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam, her most senior civil servant, from her department following a series of rows.
A Home Office spokesman said: “The home secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.
“They are focused on delivering on the Home Office’s hugely important agenda, which includes creating an immigration system that works for the UK, putting more police on the streets and keeping the public safe from terrorism.”
The Conservative former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers said there was an element of misogyny in the briefings, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m sick of spiteful briefings against women in high public office. It happens again and again and I don’t believe these allegations against Priti Patel.
“I think she’s a highly effective home secretary and I think whoever is making these briefings should stop it because I think they are unfair and they are damaging.”
A government spokesman also rejected reports in the Sunday Times alleging intelligence chiefs do not trust Patel and have decided to share less intelligence with her. The spokesman said: “The home secretary and MI5 have a strong and close working relationship, and baseless claims to the contrary are both wrong and against the public interest.
“The home secretary receives the same daily intelligence briefings as her predecessors, and no information is being withheld.”
The Sunday report was published after a series of stories – which have not been fully denied – claiming that Patel has had a series of difficult relationships with officials during her ministerial career.
The Sunday Times quoted unnamed officials claiming that MI5 found Patel “extremely difficult to deal with” and that she “doesn’t grasp the subtleties of intelligence”.
Patel’s allies believe officials are briefing against her because they do not like being challenged.
Patel was first appointed to the cabinet in 2016 as international development secretary, when Theresa May was prime minister. She was forced to resign the following year after it emerged she had failed to tell No 10 about a series of meetings she had had with Israeli ministers while she was visiting the country for what was supposed to be a holiday.
Boris Johnson took Westminster by surprise when he promoted her from the backbenches to become home secretary last summer but because of her reputation as a hardliner on Brexit and on law and order the appointment was popular with the Conservative party.