Home secretary Priti Patel is to be investigated again following allegations of breaking the ministerial code.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove confirmed Boris Johnson has asked the Cabinet Office to “establish the facts” following an urgent question from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Corbyn asked the question in the Commons after Sir Philip Rutnam quit as permanent secretary of the Home Office after rows with Patel, with allegations of bullying levelled against the home secretary.
The Labour leader said if the “serious allegations” raised by Sir Philip are true “then that would clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code”.
He added: “Why, without a proper investigation, has the prime minister defended the home secretary, calling her fantastic and saying he absolutely has confidence in her?
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“It’s not enough just to refer this to the Cabinet Office, the government must now call in an external lawyer, as quite rightly suggested by the union for senior civil servants, the First Division Association.
“A minister in breach of the ministerial code cannot remain in office and should be dismissed.”
Corbyn said: “Isn’t the truth that this is a government led by bullies, presided over by a part-time prime minister who not only can’t be bothered to turn up but simply won’t take the vital action required when the very integrity and credibility of the Government is on the line.”
But Gove told MPs: “The prime minister has expressed his full confidence in her [Patel], and having worked closely with the home secretary over a number of years, I have the highest regard for her, she is a superb minister doing a great job.
“This government always takes any complaints relating to the ministerial code seriously, and in line with the process set out in the ministerial code the prime minister has asked the Cabinet Office to establish the facts.
“As is usual, the independent adviser on ministerial interests, Sir Alex Allan, is available to provide advice to the prime minister.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union – which represents senior civil servants, said: “The announcement that the Cabinet Office has been tasked with ‘establishing the facts’ in relation to the allegations being made against the home secretary falls far short of the independent inquiry we have called for.
“The government is establishing an inquiry that civil servants are expected to have trust in, whilst at the same time ministers stand at the despatch box and pledge their confidence in the home secretary.
“We will of course work with the cabinet secretary in relation to his inquiry. However, the decision is symptomatic of the broader concerns we have on the lack of an independent, transparent and fair process for investigating and determining complaints.”