Allegations of bullying by home secretary Priti Patel will reach the High Court after a union representing senior public servants challenged Boris Johnson’s refusal to sack the minister.
The FDA union launched judicial review proceedings in February over the prime minister’s decision to disregard the findings of his adviser on ministerial standards last year.
Sir Alex Allan left his advisory role in Downing Street after Johnson contradicted his advice by judging that Patel did not breach the rules, despite being found to have bullied staff.
The FDA’s lawyers will ask a High Court judge on Tuesday to grant permission for a full hearing of the judicial review claim.
In an investigation into Patel’s behaviour published in November, Sir Alex found that the Cabinet minister had not always treated civil servants with “consideration and respect”.
Sir Alex concluded that Patel’s behaviour, which was said to include some occasions of shouting and swearing, met the definition of bullying adopted by the Civil Service.
Ministers are usually expected to resign if they breach the code but Johnson, who is its arbiter, judged, in a decision that is being challenged by the FDA, that Patel had not fallen foul of the rules.
Dave Penman, the union’s general secretary, said the affair had obliterated Civil Service trust in the ministerial code.
He said a survey taken of FDA members who are most likely to work with ministers found that nearly 90% said they had no confidence in the ministerial code as a mechanism for dealing with bullying and harassment by ministers.
Penman added: “In November the prime minister made the extraordinary decision that the home secretary did not breach the ministerial code, despite clear evidence that she bullied civil servants.
“As the union that represents many of the staff who work day to day with ministers, we cannot simply let this issue rest.
“Civil servants should expect to work with ministers without fear of being bullied or harassed.
“(Johnson’s) decision, which he said reflected the home secretary’s assertion that her actions were unintentional, potentially allows ministers to avoid the consequences of their behaviour in future by pleading that it should be the intent of their actions which is important, not the consequences.
“Our judicial review, launched today, would seek to overturn the prime minister’s decision that the home secretary’s conduct did not breach the ministerial code.
“This is not about whether the home secretary should be forced to resign, that is a matter for the prime minister, this is simply about how the ministerial code is interpreted.”
Patel previously issued an “unreserved, fulsome apology” and said there were “no excuses” for what happened.