Michael Gove – 2020 Statement on Priti Patel and the Ministerial Code

Below is the text of the statement made by Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, in the House of Commons on 2 March 2020.

On Saturday 29 February, the Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service received and accepted the resignation of Sir Philip Rutnam as permanent secretary at the Home Office. On the same day, the Cabinet Secretary announced that Shona Dunn—then the second permanent secretary at the Home Office, responsible for borders, immigration and citizenship—would become acting permanent secretary with immediate effect.

Allegations have been made that the Home Secretary has breached the ministerial code. The Home Secretary absolutely rejects those allegations. The Prime Minister has expressed his full confidence in her, and having worked closely with the Home Secretary over a number of years, I have the highest regard for her. She is a superb Minister doing a great job.

This Government always take 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. As is usual, the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests, Sir Alex Allan, is available to provide advice to the Prime Minister.

It is long-standing Government policy not to comment on individual personnel matters, in order to protect the rights of all involved. What I can and will say is that I know that the dedicated ministerial team at the Home Office and their superb civil servants will continue their critical work on the public’s behalf, keeping our country protected from the terror threat, bearing down on criminals who seek to do our communities and our country harm, and delivering a fair, firm immigration system that works in the interests of the British people. The Home Office works tirelessly to keep our citizens safe and our country secure, and we all stand behind the team leading that vital work.

Jeremy Corbyn

Mr Speaker, I am grateful to you for granting this urgent question. I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his reply, but my question was to the Prime Minister. Could we have an answer as to where the Prime Minister is this afternoon? When an urgent question to the Prime Minister is granted, one would expect the Prime Minister to come to this House to answer the question that has been put to him.

It is the Prime Minister’s job to oversee the ministerial code. If the serious allegations raised by the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, about the Home Secretary’s conduct are true—including

“shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”—

that would clearly constitute a breach of the ministerial code.

The Prime Minister himself, in his foreword to the code, said there must be

“no bullying and no harassment”.

Those are his words in his foreword to the ministerial code, so why, without a proper investigation, has the Prime Minister defended the Home Secretary, calling her “fantastic” and saying he “absolutely” has confidence in her?

It is not enough just to refer this to the Cabinet Office. The Government must now call in an external lawyer, as has quite rightly been suggested by the union of senior civil servants, the First Division Association. A Minister in breach of the ministerial code cannot remain in office and should be dismissed.

These are just the latest in a series of allegations that suggest an unacceptable pattern of behaviour. According to reports in our media, a number of the Home Office clashes have involved demands from the Home Secretary some of which were considered illegal by officials—illegal by officials. Most disturbingly, the Home Secretary reportedly asked officials to reverse a court ruling halting the deportation of 25 individuals to Jamaica last month. If that is the case, was the Home Secretary not trying to push officials into breaching a ruling by the Court of Appeal?

Is it now this Government’s policy to bully officials into flouting court rulings? Is it not the truth that this is a Government led by bullies, presided over by a part-time Prime Minister, who not only cannot be bothered to turn up, but simply will not take the vital action required when the very integrity and credibility of the Government are on the line?

Michael Gove

I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for his questions. The Prime Minister is of course in Downing Street, leading our response to the coronavirus, implementing the people’s priorities and making sure that the manifesto promises at the general election are delivered. He is governing in the national interest, delivering for the British people. As the Minister responsible for the civil service, I am pleased to be here in order to be able to uphold the ministerial code and to underline our thanks to our superb civil service for the work it does every day, implementing the manifesto commitments on which we were elected.

The Leader of the Opposition asks if this investigation is robust and fit for purpose. Of course it is. The ministerial code is absolutely clear, and the Cabinet Secretary, who polices it alongside the Prime Minister, also has access to Sir Alex Allan to ensure that every part of the ministerial code is adhered to. One of the things that is clear about this Government is that we believe that Ministers, special advisers and civil servants need to work together with confidence, with clarity and in a co-ordinated fashion to ensure that our priorities are delivered.

The Leader of the Opposition referred to media reports. I would have thought that he of all people would be wary of believing what he reads in the newspaper. We make no apology for having strong Ministers in place to ensure the effective delivery of public priorities. There is a stark contrast between the actions that the Home Secretary and her colleagues are taking to keep this country safe, and the danger in which our country would have been placed if he had won the general election and his approach towards national security had been followed.

The final thing that many will reflect on is that it is vitally important that all of us in this House uphold the highest standards of civility and respect for others. However, many people will look at the Opposition Front Bench and reflect on the fact that Labour MPs required armed police protection at their own party conference, and that the shadow Chancellor spoke of lynching Members of this House, and they will draw the conclusion that all of us need to reflect on the importance of restoring civility to public life before we throw around allegations like that.