UK’s Johnson stands by colleague as bullying claims mount

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British Lawmaker Priti Patel, the Home Secretary leaves 10 Downing Street in London, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook up his government on Thursday, firing and appointing ministers to key Cabinet posts. Johnson was aiming to tighten his grip on government after winning a big parliamentary majority in December’s election. That victory allowed Johnson to take Britain out of the European Union in January. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

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LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson came to the defense of his interior minister on Wednesday, after several civil servants accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying.

“The home secretary is doing an outstanding job,” Johnson told lawmakers during the prime minister’s weekly House of Commons question period, with Patel seated prominently beside him. “I’m sticking by her.”

Patel has been accused of fostering an environment of fear by the former top civil servant in her department, Philip Rutnam. He quit on Saturday, accusing Patel of bullying and unreasonable behavior towards staff. Rutnam also announced he is suing the Home Office for allegedly forcing him out of his job.

Since then, U.K. media have reported that staff in two other departments formerly headed by Patel —- the Department for International Development and the Department of Work and Pensions — had also complained of abusive behavior.

The BBC said one official at the work and pensions department received a payout of 25,000 pounds ($32,000 at today’s prices) from the government after accusing Patel of bullying in 2015. II said other officials accused Patel of humiliating staff members while she was international development secretary in 2016-2017.

A spokesman for Patel said she “categorically denies all of these allegations.”

Patel, a hardliner on crime and immigration, was among ministers who held onto their jobs when Johnson shook up his Cabinet on Feb. 13 following his sweeping election victory in December.

She was fired as International Development Secretary by Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, for holding unauthorized meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials during a private trip to the country.

Opposition lawmakers said Rutnam’s resignation laid bare failings in Johnson’s government. Johnson’s top aide, Dominic Cummings, has also been accused of heavy-handed treatment of government advisers.

The government has launched an internal investigation into the allegations against Patel. Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that was not good enough and called for an independent probe led by a lawyer.

“A government cannot be judge and jury over its own conduct,” he said.

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