Bullying Row Deepens as Top U.K. Minister Denies ‘False’ Claims

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(Bloomberg) -- A row over bullying in the U.K. department responsible for policing and counter-terrorism intensified over the weekend, forcing the government to deny allegations that Home Secretary Priti Patel berated civil servants and isn’t trusted by the country’s MI5 security service.

“There’s a lot of nonsense, there’s a lot of false stories that have been circulating,” James Brokenshire, a junior minister in Patel’s Home Office, told the BBC on Monday. The security service “has continued to operate in the same way as they have with other home secretaries on daily briefings,” he said.

The Times reported last week that Patel had fallen out with Philip Rutnam, the top civil servant in her department, saying she had created an “atmosphere of fear” in the Home Office. A slew of reports in the U.K. media followed, with the Sunday Times reporting that MI5 had reduced the volume of intelligence shared with the home secretary. The department issued a statement late Sunday, citing both Patel and Rutnam, to try to quell what it called “false allegations.”

The reports raise questions about cohesion at a critical time for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Patel’s department announced the U.K.’s landmark post-Brexit immigration policy last week, with significant changes that will affect businesses across the economy. The row also comes less than a week after Downing Street faced allegations of racism when the recruitment of a controversial senior adviser backfired.

On Monday, the government pushed back hard against the allegations concerning Patel -- though Brokenshire declined to comment when asked if there would be a leak inquiry.

“I don’t accept those assertions you have seen in the press about the Home Secretary,” he told Sky News. “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.”

Separately, the Home Office issued a statement saying Patel and Rutnam “are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media. They are focused on delivering on the Home Office’s hugely important agenda, which includes creating an immigration system that works for the U.K., putting more police on the streets and keeping the public safe from terrorism.”

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