A cabinet minister has been forced to defend the Home Secretary Priti Patel over accusations she is avoiding scrutiny.
Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, insisted there was no “issue” with Ms Patel and she was “100% engaged” in the fight against coronavirus.
Ms Patel has yet to chair any of the government’s daily press conferences on the battle against the global pandemic, unlike other senior members of the Cabinet.
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A furious row has also erupted between Ms Patel and a senior backbencher over calls for the Home Secretary to appear before MPs.
Ms Patel has accused Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Home Affairs Committee, of taking an “adversarial” approach by demanding she appears before MPs investigating her department’s response to Covid-19.
Speaking to Sky News, Mr Dowden said: “I really can assure you the Home Secretary is across all of this and is engaged on an hour-by-hour and day-by-day basis. I see this every day myself.
“She’s 100% engaged.
“She’s in the Home Office pretty much every day, as far as I know, that’s where I’ve seen her every day.
“I really don’t think there’s an issue with respect to the Home Secretary.”
Ms Cooper wrote to the Home Secretary on 6 March requesting she appear before the Home Affairs committee.
In a follow-up letter on 20 March she said she had “received no response” from Ms Patel.
It was “urgent and essential that we hear from you … on the departmental response to and preparations for coronavirus,” she added.
“As the government has stated: this is the biggest crisis the country has faced in our lifetimes.”
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A third letter on 3 April stated that any response from Ms Patel had not “yet been forthcoming”.
In a reply sent this week, Ms Patel accused the Labour MP of ignoring offers of updates from other ministers in the Home Office and from civil servants.
Ms Patel said: “I am disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges and I am very sorry that you have declined my offer of regular briefings with officials and ministers at the Home Office.”
She said she was committed to transparency but was “conscious of the need to give Home Office members of staff the time and space they need to carry out their essential duty of keeping the British public safe during this national crisis,” and offered a date towards the end of this month.
That was rejected by Ms Cooper, however, who said the delay would leave urgent questions unanswered for too long.
Ms Patel came under scrutiny earlier this year when the most senior civil servant in her department dramatically quit, amid allegations he was the victim of a bullying campaign by allies of the Home Secretary.
The Cabinet Office is currently carrying out an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Sir Philip Rutnam’s exit.