Home Secretary Priti Patel has been defended by a senior Cabinet colleague amid calls for her to resign following a fall-out at the top of the Home Office.
Sir Philip Rutnam, the department’s most senior civil servant, quit on Saturday after accusing Ms Patel of orchestrating a “vicious” campaign against him, of lying about her involvement in it and of creating a climate of fear among her officials.
But Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Ms Patel was “extremely courteous” in her dealings with colleagues.
And Conservative ally Nusrat Ghani MP, who was sacked as a minister by Boris Johnson last month, said the criticism of Ms Patel had sexist overtones.
Their comments come almost 24 hours after Sir Philip’s sensational resignation, a period during which no minister spoke out in defence of the embattled former international development secretary.
I think Priti is extremely courteous, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she has been very courteousHealth Secretary Matt Hancock
Mr Hancock told the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme: “Priti is a very determined Home Secretary.
“She is probably closer to where the public are on the issues of law and order than any home secretary in recent history. I think she drives things forward.
“I also think she is extremely courteous, and in every dealing I’ve had with her she has been very courteous.
“I can’t get into the details of the case, not least because it looks like it might be going to court, and I’m not close to it.”
Asked on BBC Radio 5 Live whether he was accusing Sir Philip of lying, Mr Hancock added: “I’m not getting into that.”
Former transport minister Ms Ghani used her appearance on Sky News to suggest that Ms Patel could be being judged more harshly because she is a woman.
She said: “My experience of working with Priti is that she is incredibly determined.
“She provides strong leadership and she’s delivering some very important aspects of our policy.
“I do think it’s curious that if you’re providing leadership, if you’re determined, working at a fantastic pace, that within men that is seen as a fantastic skill and for women sometimes it’s seen as challenging.”
Labour has looked to ramp up the pressure on the under-fire Home Secretary, with shadow chancellor John McDonnell suggesting she could be forced to resign.
Mr McDonnell, when asked if Ms Patel could stay in her post, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I can’t see it, it’s bizarre.”
He added: “One of the ways the Prime Minister could go forward is to have an independent investigation but during that period you’d have to suspend the Home Secretary whilst that went on.”
Labour leadership candidate Sir Keir Starmer also called on Ms Patel to explain to MPs the explosive allegations levelled against her by Sir Philip.
Sir Keir said: “The Home Secretary has a duty to come to Parliament on Monday to explain the allegations made about her own conduct.”
Sir Philip Rutnam has made very serious allegations about the conduct of the Home Secretary Priti Patel.— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) February 29, 2020
It is unprecedented that a senior civil servant has raised concerns like this in such a public way. 1/5
The shadow Brexit secretary called for Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill to start “an immediate investigation” into the circumstances surrounding Sir Philip’s departure.
In his statement on Saturday, Sir Philip said the campaign against him included “false” claims that he had briefed the media against the Home Secretary.
He said: “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.
“I believe these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive, unfair dismissal and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.”
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark issued a brief statement about two hours after Sir Philip quit, saying he had accepted his resignation “with great regret”, and adding: “I thank him for his long and dedicated career of public service”.