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Nothing remotely normal about Sir Philip Rutnam's resignation

Laura Kuenssberg
Political editor
@bbclaurakon Twitter

Published

It is totally normal for ministers and officials in high pressure jobs to have quarrels and tricky conversations.

Arguably, a bit of healthy tension can be a good thing for governments, to make sure that ideas are tested and policies properly thought through.

It is also normal from time to time for senior officials to move quietly to different government departments if a relationship breaks down with their political boss, or sometimes, for them to retire early if the situation has become impossible.

There is nothing remotely normal however about a top government official quitting their job, suing the government in the belief they were forced out, deciding to go public with the reasons, and accusing one of the most senior politicians in the country of not being straight with the truth.

But that is exactly what's happened. Sir Philip Rutnam has been one of the most senior civil servants for years, in charge at the Home Office for the last few.

His time there has not always been an unalloyed success - the Home Office, as one of the biggest and most complicated departments in the government, has struggled with various issues, most notably the Windrush scandal. The Home Office is often seen as a poisoned chalice given the nature of its job.

But Sir Philip's departure, and the manner of it, goes way beyond any normal policy problems or clashes.

He cited a "vicious and orchestrated" campaign against him, and suggested that although Home Secretary Priti Patel has denied having anything to do with it, he said that he did not believe her.

More to the point, he took aim not just at Ms Patel, but alluded to what he said was a "wider pattern" in government.

Add this to the resignation of Sajid Javid, the former chancellor who expressed concerns about how the government is behaving, there is mounting evidence of unhappiness with how Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his team are running things.

Certainly it is a government in a hurry, willing to rattle cages in order to get things done.

But governments who want to get things done need an effective civil service to make things happen. A very public breakdown in trust like this does not help that cause.

Indications at this early stage are that Priti Patel's position is secure. But with an employment tribunal in the offing, pressure may well build in the coming weeks.

If Sir Philip pursues his case as he says he will, exactly what happened behind closed doors may soon be out there for all to see.

Related Topics

  • Priti Patel
  • Home Office
  • Civil Service