Simon Case, the UK’s new cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, is facing calls from officials to publish the long-awaited investigation into allegations of bullying of officials by home secretary Priti Patel.
Mr Case, who takes over from Mark Sedwill on Monday, has a delicate balancing act in his new role: restoring faith among civil servants — following months of negative briefings and blame for policy failures — while maintaining the trust of Boris Johnson and his inner circle.
Several senior Whitehall insiders told the Financial Times that the highly sensitive report, which has yet to be released despite being commissioned in March, was being kept under wraps by Downing Street because of its findings and the prime minister’s support for Ms Patel.
“The report has evidence of bullying, but the judgment is that it is not enough to sack. That would be a tough one to publish and an apology is being resisted by her [Patel],” said one well-placed individual.
Another government insider said, “the report has corroborated some of the allegations and calls on Priti to apologise. But she and No 10 are resisting, hence why it hasn’t been released.”
Ms Patel denies all allegations of bullying or misconduct.
Helen MacNamara, the senior civil servant who led the inquiry into the bullying allegations, wants to put her report in the public domain and has clashed with the prime minister’s senior advisers on the issue.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, and Lee Cain, head of communications, have privately agreed that Ms Patel, a fellow Vote Leave campaigner, should not have to apologise for her behaviour.
Some people close to the Cabinet Office believe Mr Case would like to publish the report to display his independence and his willingness to stand up for civil servants, but senior Tories are confident it will continue to gather dust. One said: “Dom and Lee don’t want it published.”
One senior Whitehall mandarin said, “what Simon does with the Patel investigation will be crucial to deciphering what kind of cabinet secretary he will be. The investigation needs to be finished and published. He has to prove he’s on the side of the civil service, not just the PM.”
A spokesperson for the Cabinet Office said the “process was ongoing” and declined to comment on the contents of the report or why it had not been released.
Dave Penman, head of the FDA union that represents senior civil servants, said the investigation was sitting on Mr Johnson’s desk and he should “urgently” conclude the inquiry and publish its findings to retain credibility in the investigation.
“When Michael Gove, minister for the Cabinet Office, announced in the House of Commons on March 2 that an investigation into allegations of bullying against the home secretary would be conducted by his department, he said it must be concluded quickly to be fair to all sides.
Mr Penman added, “while announcing the investigation, by his own department, Gove pledged his support for the home secretary. When the Prime Minister was questioned about the issue two days later, he similarly said he was backing the home secretary, knowing full well that he alone would have to decide on the outcome of the investigation. The result is that, from the outset, the independence of this investigation has been compromised.”
Mr Case’s appointment adds an intriguing element to the power structures at the heart of government and the complex relationship between Mr Johnson and Mr Gove.
The former adviser to Prince William was brought in by Mr Johnson in May to stabilise his administration. Mr Case, a politically astute official, will have near-constant access to Mr Johnson in Number 10 and will become a powerful alternative centre of influence to that of Mr Cummings.
“Simon is unsackable,” said one former mandarin, arguing that Mr Case would hold a very powerful position and that Mr Johnson would not countenance removing another cabinet secretary after the ousting of Mark Sedwill earlier this year.