Boris Johnson pushed to disclose when he heard bullying claims | Politics

Boris Johnson is under pressure to disclose when he first heard claims of bullying by Priti Patel as new details emerged of her alleged behaviour towards staff in three government departments.

The prime minister brushed over Jeremy Corbyn’s repeated questions asking how much he knew about the allegations when he appointed Patel as home secretary last summer. Several sources claim the cabinet office was told about her alleged intimidation of staff in 2017.

Patel faces a cabinet office inquiry, overseen by Johnson, and an employment tribunal brought by Sir Philip Rutnam, her former permanent secretary. She denies any allegation of wrongdoing.

Westminster sources claim the Conservative Party was warned about a bullying allegation in the department for work and pensions but failed to take any action.

A source with knowledge of the complaint said a former DWP staff member contacted Conservative Campaign headquarters to make the party aware of Patel’s alleged behaviour some time before she was promoted to home secretary.

The complainant was given a £25,000 payout after taking an overdose of prescription medicine following alleged bullying, the BBC reported.

At prime minister’s questions, Corbyn asked if Johnson knew about the bullying claims and why public money was used to pay off civil servants who complained about Patel.

“On each occasion, tens of thousands of pounds of hard-earned taxpayers’ money has been spaffed up the wall to buy their silence. Was the prime minister aware of these allegations about the home secretary? If he was, why did he appoint her?” he said.

Johnsongave a public show of support for Patel who sat on the Commons frontbench alongside him.

“The home secretary is doing an outstanding job – delivering change, putting police on the streets, cutting crime and delivering a new immigration system – and I’m sticking by her,” he said.

Allegations emerged on Tuesday night that the home secretary had bullied her private secretary, who had to sign off from work with stress. It allegedly occurred when she was international development secretary between 2016 and 2017.

A former Department for International Development (DfID) staff member told the Guardian that Patel’s “bang the table” attitude towards staff was “common knowledge”.

“There was an internal inquiry about the culture. I’d heard of people being called useless,” they said.

Penny Mordaunt, who came in immediately after Patel conducted an internal investigation into the department’s culture, the staff member said. Mordaunt, who is now the paymaster general, made a speech to staff saying she had wanted to get people’s “mojo” back.

Patel was sacked by Theresa May as international development secretary over unauthorised contacts with the Israeli government.

Following Patel’s dismissal, a senior figure in DfID was said to have approached staff in her private offices about allegations that they had heard of bullying.

The senior figure was said to have been told of multiple claims of staff being humiliated and coming under heavy pressure in emails.

They then went to see another senior figure in DfID and urged them to contact the then cabinet secretary, the late Sir Jeremy Heywood, so that her conduct was recorded “in the system” if she ever returned to government.

Rutnam dramatically resigned as home office permanent secretary on Saturday, claiming he had been subjected to a briefing campaign against him that had been condoned by Patel. He has begun legal action against the government for constructive dismissal.

The Conservative Party did not respond to a request for a comment.

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