Top Home Office bureaucrat Sir Philip Rutnam has quit his post and vowed to sue Boris Johnson’s government for constructive dismissal, claiming he has been the target of a “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign.”
The Home Office, or Home Department, is one of Britain’s most important government ministries, being broadly responsible for border control, immigration, policing, and national security.
As with other government departments, its manpower is comprised primarily of members of Her Majesty’s Civil Service — a notionally impartial standing bureaucracy which remains in position regardless of which political party (or parties) hold elected office.
While Priti Patel MP, as the Home Secretary, is the current political head of the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam, as Permanent Secretary, was its top civil servant.
"I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign"
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) February 29, 2020
“I have this morning resigned as permanent secretary of the Home Office,” Sir Philip announced in a televised public statement.
“I am making this statement now because I will be issuing a claim against the Home Office for constructive dismissal.
“In the last 10 days, I have been the target of a vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign.
“It has been alleged that I have briefed the media against the Home Secretary. This — along with many other claims — is completely false,” he insisted.
There has long been a perception that the Civil Service, despite its official neutrality, has its own deep-rooted biases, and that new ministers struggle to implement policies which the bureaucracy does not approve of — causing most to quickly “go native” and become defenders of the departmental status quo.
This was famously satirised in the British political sit-coms Yes, Minister, and Yes, Prime Minister, in which the long-serving, double-talking Sir Humphrey Appleby uses his superior administrative knowledge to derail and frustrates the agenda of the politician he is supposed to be working for at (almost) every turn.
Sir Humphrey explains Remain. pic.twitter.com/qC2yAPN1qc
— The People's Tim Dawson (@Tim_R_Dawson) September 12, 2019
Sir Philip said that he does not believe the Home Secretary’s denial of any involvement in a campaign against him, and that his duty as Permanent Secretary “to protect the health, safety and well-being of our 35,000 people… created tension with the Home Secretary, and I… encouraged her to change her behaviours.”
He said he had received “allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands — behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out.”
It is not certain what particular issues the pair have been clashing over, but Patel was said to be unhappy with the Home Office’s refusal to release a report commissioned by her predecessor Sajid Javid on the ethnic background of grooming gangs, which she herself was reportedly struggling to obtain.
Sir Philip’s tenure as Home Office bureaucrat-in-chief has not always been covered in glory, with the mandarin having been in post when the Windrush scandal — centring on the wrongful deportation of a small number of legal migrants — broke, and when it emerged that the department had lost some 56,000 illegal migrants due for deportation, including 700 ex-convict former prisoners.
Commentators such as Darren Grunes have also accused Sir Philip of presiding over a number of expensive debacles at the Department for Transport, where he was posted previously.
Sir Philip Rutnam presided over: 2012’s £13.3 billion west coast rail franchise fiasco, £38 billion Network Rail upgrade failure, HS2(!), £3.1 billion overbudget upgrade to Airwave system in Home Office and, of course, Windrush. He was knighted for his trouble, naturally.
— Darren Grimes (@darrengrimes_) February 29, 2020