Boris Johnson was facing allegations he tried to water down the official inquiry that found Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied staff as he was told "you shouldn't have bullies in government" by a former top civil servant.
Sir David Normington, a former Home Office permanent secretary, said on Saturday the Prime Minister "doesn't seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life" as he faced mounting criticism for standing by Ms Patel.
Downing Street did not deny suggestions that Mr Johnson had tried and failed to convince his standards ministerial adviser Sir Alex Allan to tone down his conclusion that her behaviour amounted to bullying as he found instances of shouting and swearing.
The adviser quit on Friday when the Prime Minister overruled his conclusion that Ms Patel breached the ministerial code and stood by his Home Secretary.
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02: Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development delivers a speech about Brexit on the first day of the Conservative Party Conference 2016 at the ICC Birmingham on October 2, 2016 in Birmingham, England. On the opening day of the annual party conference, British Prime Minister Theresa May has confirmed that the deadline for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to will be the end of March 2017. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 18: (L-R) Gareth Johnson, Lord Deighton, Andrea Leadsom MP, Danny Alexander MP, The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, Priti Patel MP, Rob Halfon and David Gauke MP leave 11 Downing Street on March 18, 2015 in London, England. The Chancellor is presenting his 5th Budget to Members of Parliament today, the last before the General Election on May 7, 2015. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Conservative member of parliament Priti Patel arrives for a meeting at 10 Downing Street in central London on May 11, 2015. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron continued to appoint members of the government after a shock election victory in the May 7 general election. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP via Getty Images)
Samantha Cameron (C), wife of Britain's Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron, sits with Conservative parliamentary candidate Priti Patel (R), as she joins her husband to take part in the Sikh Vaisakhi Festival at Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Gravesend, southern England, on April 18, 2015 ahead of the general election on May 7. The Vaisakhi Festival is the most important event in the Sikh calendar and celebrates the birth Khalsa. AFP PHOTO / POOL / PETER MACDIARMID (Photo credit should read PETER MACDIARMID/AFP via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 01: Prime Minister David Cameron (R) walks with Employment Minister Priti Patel during a visit to a children's nursery on June 1, 2015 in London, England. The new Childcare Bill will see free early education or childcare allowances double for working parents with a household income of less than £150,000 - although it is not currently clear how many hours they will have to work in order to qualify. (Photo by Carl Court - WPA Pool / Getty Images)
PORTSMOUTH, ENGLAND - MAY 13: Conservative MP and Minister of State for Employment, Priti Patel holds a Vote Leave poster as she joins the Vote Leave battle bus tour as it stops in Portsmouth on May 13, 2016 in Portsmouth, England. Portsmouth City Council members voted in March in favour of a motion declaring that the UK would be better off outside the EU declaring that Portsmouth should vote to leave the EU in the referendum to be held on Thursday June 23. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
British foreign minister Boris Johnson and Britain's International Development Secretary Priti Patel leave the weekly meeting of the cabinet at 10 Downing Street in central London on January 31, 2017. / AFP / Glyn KIRK (Photo credit should read GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall with International Development Secretary Priti Patel (right) during a reception and dinner for supporters of the British Asian Trust at Guildhall, London. (Photo by Frank Augstein/PA Images via Getty Images)
Britain's International Development Secretary Priti Patel delivers her speech on the third day of the Conservative Party annual conference at the Manchester Central Convention Centre in Manchester on October 3, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Oli SCARFF (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Priti Patel during the annual service of remembrance at Witham War Memorial in Essex. (Photo by David Mirzeof/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08: British Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel talks on a mobile phone in a car as she arrives to Downing Street on November 8, 2017 in London, England. Ms Patel has been summoned back to the U.K from an official trip to Uganda as more details of her unofficial meetings with Israeli officials emerge. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
(L-R) Conservative MP's Iain Duncan Smith and Priti Patel, Boris Johnson's father Stanley Johnson and sister Rachel Johnson listen as British Conservative Party politician Boris Johnson gives a speech during a fringe event on the sidelines of the third day of the Conservative Party Conference 2018 at the International Convention Centre in Birmingham, on October 2, 2018. (Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP) (Photo credit should read OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2019/01/30: Priti Patel MP, former Secretary of State for International Development is seen speaking at the Bruges Group event focusing on issues of Britain outside the European Union. (Photo by Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) poses for selfie photographs with members of the public as he takes a walkabout with Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (2R) and members of West Midlands Police in Birmingham, central England on July 26, 2019. - Johnson pledged to start recruiting 20,000 new police officers as one of a number of anouncements on his government's domestic policy agenda during his debut statement in the House of Commons as Prime Minister on July 25. Meanwhile, Johnson has deliberately set Britain on a "collision course" with the EU over Brexit negotiations, Ireland's foreign minister was quoted as saying on Friday. (Photo by Geoff Pugh / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read GEOFF PUGH/AFP via Getty Images)
Conservative MP Priti Patel (L) talks with Stanley Johnson (R), father of Conservative MP Boris Johnson, at an event to announce the winner of the Conservative Party leadership contest in central London on July 23, 2019. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L), accompanied by Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel, speaks at the first meeting of the National Policing Board at the Home Office in London, on July 31, 2019. (Photo by Kirsty Wigglesworth / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read KIRSTY WIGGLESWORTH/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel arrives at number 10 Downing Street in central London on August 2, 2019. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo credit should read TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06: Home Secretary Priti Patel talks onstage at the launch of the Conservative Party's General Election campaign at the National Exhibition Centre on November 6, 2019 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. Boris Johnson visited HM The Queen earlier today to officially dissolve Parliament before heading to the West Midlands to launch the Conservative Party general election campaign. The British people will go to the polls on December 12th for the first winter election in nearly a century. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel during the Conservative Party Conference at the Manchester Convention Centre. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel during a visit to Kent Police College in Maidstone, as part of an announcement on police recruitment following previous government pledges to bring in thousands more officers. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday October 9, 2019. Police recruitment targets for every force in England and Wales have been announced by the government as part of its pledge to hire 20,000 new officers. In the first wave of the roll-out, the Home Office will provide Â£750 million to support the 43 forces to recruit up to 6,000 new officers by the end of 2020-21. See PA story POLITICS Policing. Photo credit should read: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 02: Home Secretary, Priti Patel attends a vigil for victims Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 of the London Bridge attack and to honour the public and emergency services who responded to the incident at the Guildhall Yard on December 2, 2019 in London England. Usman Khan, a 28 year old former prisoner convicted of terrorism offences, killed two people in Fishmongers' Hall at the North end of London Bridge on Friday, November 29, before continuing his attack on the bridge. Mr Khan was restrained and disarmed by members of the public before being shot by armed police. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 2: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with Home Secretary, Priti Patel aboard a security vessel at the Port of Southampton, Britain December 2, 2019. (Photo by Hannah McKay - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves 10 Downing Street in central London on February 13, 2020 after being confirmed in her position as the prime minister reshuffles his team. - Britain's prime minister revamped his top team on February 13 in his first cabinet reshuffle since taking Britain out of the European Union. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves number 10 Downing Street in central London on January 21, 2020, following a meeting of the cabinet. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
(L-R) Britain's Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union (Brexit Minister) Stephen Barclay, Britain's Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove, Britain's Foreign Secretary and First Secretary of State Dominic Raab, Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel and Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace take part in the first cabinet meeting since the general election, inside 10 Downing Street in London on December 17, 2019. (Photo by Matt Dunham / POOL / AFP) (Photo by MATT DUNHAM/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - FEBRUARY 14: Britain's Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (L) and Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel (R) arrive for the first meeting of the cabinet following yesterday's reshuffle at 10 Downing Street on February 14, 2020 in London, England. The Prime Minister reshuffled the Cabinet yesterday. High profile changes were Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Housing Minister Esther McVey and Northern Ireland Minister Julian Smith all sacked and Chancellor Sajid Javid resigned. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel meets students and staff working on 'carbon capture' at Imperial College London in South Kensington, London where she announced plans for a new points-based immigration system. (Photo by Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks the on the UK points-based immigration system in the House of Commons, London. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 09: Priti Patel attends the Commonwealth Day Service 2020 at Westminster Abbey on March 9, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Mark Cuthbert/UK Press via Getty Images)
Britain's Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves number 10, Downng Street in central London on March 17, 2020. - Britain stepped up its response to coronavirus, recommending household isolation, home-working and an end to mass gatherings to try to stem an accelerating outbreak. (Photo by Tolga AKMEN / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
Screen grab of Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19). (Photo by PA Video/PA Images via Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel answers questions from members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee during a virtual hearing. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 28, 2020:
Home Secretary Priti Patel at the BBC before appearing on the Andrew Marr Show.
London, Great Britain, 28 Jun 2020
David Nash / Barcroft Media- PHOTOGRAPH BY David Nash / Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing (Photo credit should read David Nash/Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel meets new recruits during a visit to Sussex Police Headquarters in Lewes, East Sussex. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel meets new recruits during a visit to Sussex Police Headquarters in Lewes, East Sussex. (Photo by Gareth Fuller/PA Images via Getty Images)
NORTHALLERTON, ENGLAND - JULY 30: Prime Minster, Boris Johnson and Home Secretary, Priti Patel visit The North Yorkshire police and are introduced to recently graduated Police Officers on July 30, 2020 in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, England. (Photo by Charlotte Graham - WPA Pool/Getty)
Home Secretary Priti Patel making a statement to MPs in the House of Commons, London, where she promised a "full evaluation" of the hostile environment policy in the wake of the Windrush scandal. (Photo by House of Commons/PA Images via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 08: Priti Patel, Secretary of State for the Home Department attends the National Service of Remembrance at The Cenotaph on November 08, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)
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Sir David, the top civil servant at the department until 2011, criticised Mr Johnson for contradicting Sir Alex to find the Cabinet minister is not a bully.
"The Prime Minister has simply put aside the findings of a report, and of the independent adviser Sir Alex Allan, that she is a bully and you shouldn't' have bullies in government," Sir David told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"We have to put ourselves in the position of the bullied, no one has spoken up for them, some of them are junior staff and who will be sitting there today thinking that their voice has not been heard and you cannot rely on the Prime Minister to stand up for them.
"For the first time as far as I can remember we have a prime minister that doesn't seem willing to stand up for high standards in public life."
Conservative peer Ken Clarke, a former home secretary, said he was "troubled" by the "very awkward situation".
"It was assumed before that if an investigation was taken this far and if anyone was found to have broken the ministerial code, I don't think anyone would have doubted the minister – to use the old phrase – would have to consider his or her position," Lord Clarke told Times Radio.
Offering what she described as an "unreserved, fulsome apology", Ms Patel seized on Sir Alex's finding that she received no feedback on the impact of her behaviour.
But Sir Philip Rutnam, who quit as the Home Office's permanent secretary after accusing Ms Patel of a "vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign" against him, contested this.
He said she was advised not to shout and swear at staff the month after her appointment in 2019 and that he told her to treat staff with respect "on a number of further occasions".
Sir Philip also said he was not interviewed for the inquiry despite him having launched a constructive dismissal claim at an employment tribunal.
Meanwhile, the Times reported two unnamed senior Whitehall officials saying that the Prime Minister tried and failed to get Sir Alex to tone down his report to find there was no clear evidence of bullying.
Downing Street did not deny the report, with a No 10 spokesman instead saying: "As you would expect, the Prime Minister spoke to Sir Alex Allan to further his understanding of the report.
"Sir Alex's conclusions are entirely his own."
Shadow home office minister Holly Lynch said the "initial, unedited report" must be published in full and called for an independent investigation.
"These are serious allegations that suggest Boris Johnson tried to interfere with an investigation into bullying accusations against one of his closest political allies," the Labour MP said.
Sir Alex found Ms Patel had not always treated civil servants with "consideration and respect" and concluded that her approach on occasions "amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals".
He said Ms Patel had "not consistently met the high standards required by the ministerial code", though he said there was "no evidence that she was aware of the impact of her behaviour".
The Home Secretary apologised and said there were "no excuses" for what happened but highlighted Sir Alex's assessment of her awareness.
She told the BBC that "any upset that I've caused is completely unintentional and at the time, of course it says it's in the report, that issues were not pointed out to me".
The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Evans of Weardale, said Sir Alex's resignation was "deeply concerning" and that his committee would look "urgently" at what had happened as part of its review of the ministerial code.