Britain's top civil servant has fired a warning shot at Home Secretary Priti Patel over claims of poor treatment of staff.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill said that officials must be confident that ministers would abide by their code of conduct.
And in a stinging rebuke he highlighted the “enduring” work of the civil service beyond the government of the day.
But Sir Mark also had tough words for staff – ordering an end to the media leaks which have rocked the Tory administration.
Ms Patel’s allies said she wanted a ‘witch-hunt’ into claims that she was not trusted by MI5 chiefs with key intelligence.
But last night No 10 said that no request for a formal leak inquiry into the “hostile briefings” had been made.
The Home Secretary’s relationship with her department’s top civil servant appeared to be on the verge of breakdown.
She had been accused of trying to get rid of Sir Philip Rutnam and bullying and belittling officials at the Home Office.
Yet Downing Street said that Boris Johnson had “full confidence” in Ms Patel’s ability.
It appeared less supportive of the Home Office mandarin, saying only that the PM had “full confidence in the civil service”.
The PM’s official spokesman dismissed as “baseless and wrong” claims that MI5 had withheld intelligence.
In his email to Whitehall staff, Sir Mark said: “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… will remain private and that everyone will at all times adhere to the high standards set out in the civil service, special adviser and ministerial codes.”
He also issued a warning over briefings to the media, saying it “besmirches this country’s hard-won reputation for good governance”.
The top civil servant at the International Aid department wrote to staff to reassure them the ministry has a “zero tolerance” of bullying and harassment in the wake of the reports about Ms Patel’s time running the department.
Ms Patel’s security minister admitted she was a “demanding” boss – but claimed reports she was a bully were “absolute nonsense”.
James Brokenshire also denied reports that the security services didn’t trust her.
“Yes, she is demanding, but in that role you have to be because you are dealing with some of the most sensitive, some of the most challenging things that you have to deal with across Government,” he said.
One ally said the Home Secretary was “absolutely livid” at the string of hostile briefings against her over the past week.
Ms Patel and Sir Philip fired off a heavyweight denial of a rift.
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