Since Sir Philip Rutnam resigned as the Home Office permanent secretary, alleging that Priti Patel had created a climate of fear in the department, the Home Secretary has kept a low profile and made no public comment. Today the government were forced to formally respond to the claims thanks to an urgent question from Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader asked why the Prime Minister defended Patel over the claims and called her 'fantastic', when if true the allegations would 'constitute a breach of the ministerial code'.
Speaking for the government, Michael Gove put in a passionate defence of his colleague. He praised Patel as someone he had always found to be civil and co-operative. He said that the government would 'make no apology of having strong ministers in place'. However, he also revealed that Patel will be the subject of a government inquiry. Gove said the Cabinet Office will launch an investigation into the allegations made against the Home Secretary:
'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.'
The interventions from the Tory benches following Gove's statement made clear that Patel has the support of her party. Tory MP Rob Halfon suggested that the allegations made against Patel were simply part of an attempt by the 'establishment' to block and stifle the government's agenda. His colleague, Tory MP Julian Lewis, went further – putting the smears, in part, down to sexism towards 'the present Iron Lady in the Home Office'. For all the negative headlines, there is for now a concentrated effort within the party to rally round Patel ahead of what will likely be a rather messy employment tribunal for all concerned.