Civil servants told ‘keep advice to ministers private’ after Patel allegations

The head of the civil service has ordered an end to media leaks in a missive to Government staff as claims of feuding at the top of the Home Office continue.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill told all civil servants that advice they provide for ministers and “any debates” around it should remain “private”.

But the move went down among staff “like a cold cup of sick”, a source told the PA news agency.

It is the latest development in the ongoing furore over allegations that Home Secretary Priti Patel clashed with senior officials, belittled colleagues and is distrusted by intelligence chiefs.

Ms Patel has expressed concern at the “false” claims while allies continued to describe her as a “demanding” boss but not a bully.

In the message, seen by PA, sent out on Monday afternoon, Sir Mark referred to the “recent stories of tensions within Whitehall, sparked by attributable briefings and leaks to the media”.

He said: “This besmirches this country’s hard-won reputation for good governance and is a distraction from the vital work of the thousands of civil servants delivering the Government’s agenda and the public services on which our citizens rely.”

Sir Mark went on to say: “Candour, confidentiality and courtesy between ministers, special advisers and civil servants are crucial to the trust and confidence on which good governance depends.

“Civil servants should at all times be confident they can give the honest, impartial and objective advice on which ministers can rely.

“Both should be confident that this advice, and any debate that surrounds it, will remain private.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Sir Mark Sedwill
Prime Minister Boris Johnson with Sir Mark Sedwill

Signing off the message, he added: “I know that the whole Civil Service is committed to delivery of the Government’s agenda and to our enduring work to protect and promote the interests of our citizens, communities and country.”

A civil service source told PA the message had “gone down like a cold cup of sick” among some staff, who resented the note because it “feels like a ticking off” even though many regard the stories as the result of a political row which did not involve them.

The Government on Sunday moved to strongly deny claims that MI5 chiefs do not trust Ms Patel and were limiting intelligence sharing.

The latest allegation came after she was accused of bullying officials and creating an “atmosphere of fear” at the department, which allies denied.

It emerged last week that Ms Patel had tried to move permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam from her department after they had a series of rows.

An ally to the Home Secretary described her as being “absolutely livid” about the recent slew of allegations and insisted she was demanding a leak inquiry to be carried out by the Cabinet Office.

But Cabinet Office sources were adamant that a request had not been received either formally or informally yet.

Boris Johnson has “full confidence” in Ms Patel, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said, adding: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the Home Secretary and the vital work that she is doing to make our streets safer and to take back control of the UK’s borders.”

Priti Patel and Boris Johnson
Priti Patel and Boris Johnson

But asked whether Mr Johnson had full confidence in Home Office mandarin Sir Philip, the spokesman simply said: “The Prime Minister has full confidence in the civil service, which is working very hard to deliver on the Government’s priorities.”

Meanwhile, security minister James Brokenshire told Sky News the reports were “absolute nonsense”.

He conceded that there is “huge frustration” across the Home Office around some of the “false assertions that have been made publicly” about Ms Patel.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.

“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.”

The Home Secretary and MI5 “have a strong and close working relationship” and no information was being withheld, a Government spokesman said.