Fresh Home Office staff row as it is claimed Priti Patel ‘told permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam to sack a senior official on Christmas Eve and he refused’ as top mandarin makes public joke about rift
- Priti Patel said to have clashed with Sir Philip Rutnam over bid to oust top official
- Home Secretary allegedly told Sir Philip to remove director of communications
- Sir Philip is said to have refused to obey the order because it was Christmas Eve
- Claims come as Sir Philip made public joke about rift with the Home Secretary
Priti Patel told Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam to get rid of a senior department official on Christmas Eve but the top mandarin refused, it was claimed today.
Ms Patel is said to have instructed Sir Philip to move director of communications Andy Tighe out of the department.
But Sir Philip allegedly declined to carry out the order due to the timing of the request with Mr Tighe, a former BBC journalist, later choosing to retire from the role.
The incident, reported by the Huff Post website, is thought to have been one of the main drivers behind the apparent deterioration in the relationship between Ms Patel and Sir Philip.
Ms Patel has reportedly tried to get rid of Sir Philip from his position as the department’s top civil servant while the Home Secretary has faced allegations of bullying and belittling staff – accusations her allies have rejected.
Sir Philip today appeared to make light of the Home Office war as he made a rare public appearance.
Priti Patel, pictured at the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners joint summit in Westminster yesterday, is alleged to have tried to oust a senior Home Office official on Christmas Eve
Sir Philip Rutnam, pictured at the same police summit yesterday, is alleged to have refused to obey the order because of its timing
He remained tight-lipped on the alleged rift with Ms Patel but did prompt laughter during his address to the National Police Chiefs’ Council and Association of Police and Crime Commissioners summit in Westminster as he spoke about his increased public profile.
He said: ‘You probably have already heard a great deal more about permanent secretary’s in the last few days than you ever expected to.
‘But be reassured, I am not got to talk about that. I am going to talk about what really matters, which is cutting crime and building a law enforcement system that is more capable, more resilient and better placed for the future.’
The reported Christmas Eve showdown comes after it was revealed that two senior civil servants have been forced out of the Home Office after clashing with Ms Patel.
A top official working in police oversight transferred to the Department of Transport and a member of the Home Secretary’s private office left their post in recent weeks, the Times reported.
Ms Patel and Sir Philip released a joint statement in recent days to deny reports of a split at the top of the department.
Her allies have described her as a ‘demanding’ boss but not a bully.
The reports of feuding prompted the head of the Civil Service to order an end to media leaks in a directive to Government staff.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told all civil servants that advice they provide for ministers and ‘any debates’ around it should remain ‘private’.
Responding to the claims reported by Huff Post, a Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary and Permanent Secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.
Who is Sir Philip Rutnam, the Whitehall mandarin who Priti Patel ‘wants to get rid of?’
Sir Philip Rutnam is one of the most senior civil servants in Whitehall.
He joined the Home Office as permanent secretary – the top civil servant role in each department – in April 2017 having previously done the same job at the Department for Transport for five years.
However, his time at the Home Office has proved to be controversial because he was in post during the Windrush scandal.
He faced calls in November 2018 to resign over it with Tory London mayor candidate Shaun Bailey claiming the mandarin needed to step down to ‘restore confidence’ in the Home Office.
Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary in April 2018 because of the controversy which saw some migrants from Commonwealth countries who came to the UK from the late 1970s to 1973 being wrongly declared illegal immigrants.
An official report examining what went wrong found that Ms Rudd had been let down by her officials.
However, it stopped short of criticising Sir Philip.
‘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.’
Extraordinary briefings about relations between Ms Patel and Sir Philip have dominated recent weeks in Westminster.
The Home Secretary is said to be ‘livid’ over claims that she bullied staff and was cut out of security briefings by MI5 – allegations that emerged after she allegedly tried to have Sir Philip removed.
The Home Office issued a joint statement from the pair on Sunday but a Whitehall source said relations between them had completely broken down, adding: ‘Can they continue to work together? I just don’t know. No 10 is going to have to sort it out because it is completely dysfunctional.’
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, has given his support to Ms Patel with Downing Street stating he has ‘full confidence’ in his Home Secretary.
Asked to give the same endorsement to Sir Philip, the PM’s official spokesman ducked the question, replying: ‘The Prime Minister has full confidence in the civil service.’
Allies of Miss Patel are urging Sir Mark to move Sir Philip to a new role in Whitehall.
Number 10 has insisted that the appointment of permanent secretaries is ‘a matter for the Cabinet Secretary’.