Top mandarin Philip Rutnam summons the BBC to announce walkout

‘Sir Calamity’ is off, spitting fury: Top mandarin Philip Rutnam summons the BBC to announce walkout and vows to sue over bully row with Priti Patel

  • Sir Philip Rutnam – dubbed ‘Sir Calamity’ – dramatically quit the Home Office 
  • He accused Priti Patel of plotting to ousting and creating a climate of fear
  • However, critics have branded his career at the Home Office a ‘litany of failure’ 

The most senior civil servant at the Home Office quit yesterday and launched an astonishing broadside against Priti Patel.

After months of Whitehall warfare spilled over into a lurid public briefing war, Sir Philip Rutnam – dubbed ‘Sir Calamity’ – dramatically summoned the BBC to announce his walkout and vowed to sue the Government. 

He accused the Home Secretary of orchestrating a ‘vicious’ campaign against him and claimed Civil Service chiefs had tried to buy him off in return for his silence. 

He went on to directly accuse Ms Patel of involvement in plots to oust him and of creating a climate of fear in her department by ‘shouting and swearing’. 

But critics hit back to brand Sir Philip’s Whitehall career a ‘litany of failure’.

And allies of the Home Secretary declared victory last night, claiming the former banker ‘knew he was toast’ and had ‘jumped before he was pushed’.

One source claimed Sir Philip’s public civil war with the Home Secretary was ‘the only way to save face’ after his position became untenable.

The explosive resignation came after simmering tensions between Ms Patel and her Permanent Secretary boiled to the surface last weekend, with various reports about a rift between the two.

And it comes amid growing tension between Boris Johnson’s Government and the Civil Service machine.

Sir Philip vowed to sue the Government for constructive dismissal after his name appeared on a ‘hitlist’ of senior civil servants that Downing Street wanted to sack that was leaked to the media.

It is understood that tensions in the Home Office came to a head in September after Sir Philip blocked a pre-Election announcement that Ms Patel wanted to roll out Tasers for police. 

It was also felt at the top of Government that Sir Philip had been ‘a roadblock to change’ and has consistently tried to stymie reforms needed to get Britain ready for Brexit.

One source claimed Sir Philip’s public civil war with the Home Secretary was ‘the only way to save face’ after his position became untenable

Allies of the Home Secretary declared victory last night, claiming the former banker ‘knew he was toast’ and had ‘jumped before he was pushed’

Other insiders say the pair had been engaged in a vicious turf war since the moment Ms Patel was appointed.

When two of Ms Patel’s praetorian guard of special advisers left the department last month, a slew of negative media stories about the Home Secretary began to appear.

A source said: ‘This is what happens when you remove a Minister’s political protection. The haters declared open season on her and there was no one there to fight her corner.’

Sir Philip Rutnam’s statement in full

‘I have this morning resigned as Permanent Secretary of the Home Office.

‘I take this decision with great regret after a career of 33 years.

‘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.

‘The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her. She has not made the efforts I would expect to dissociate herself from the comments.

‘Even despite this campaign, I was willing to effect a reconciliation with the Home Secretary – as requested by the Cabinet Secretary on behalf of the Prime Minister. But despite my efforts to engage with her, Priti Patel has made no effort to engage with me to discuss this.

‘I believe that these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive unfair dismissal, and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.

‘My experience has been extreme but I consider there is evidence it was part of a wider pattern of behaviour.

‘One of my duties as Permanent Secretary was to protect the health, safety and well-being of our 35,000 people.

‘This created tension with the Home Secretary, and I have encouraged her to change her behaviours.

‘I have 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.

‘I know that resigning in this way will have serious implications for me personally – the Cabinet Office offered me a financial settlement that would have avoided this outcome.

‘I am aware that there will continue to be briefing against me now I have made this decision, but I am hopeful that at least it may not now be directed towards my colleagues or the department.

‘This has been a very difficult decision but I hope that my stand may help in maintaining the quality of Government in our country – which includes hundreds of thousands of civil servants, loyally dedicated to delivering this Government’s agenda.

‘I will make no further comment at this stage.’

Further stories appeared in the media claiming Ms Patel had clashed with senior officials, belittled colleagues and was ‘a bully’.

Those reports prompted the head of the Civil Service, Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill, to tell all civil servants that advice they give Ministers and ‘any debates’ around it should remain ‘private’.

It culminated with a wickedly false claim that Ms Patel was distrusted by intelligence chiefs that sparked an unprecedented public denial from MI5. 

Last night, Sir Mark was also under pressure after it emerged he was on a family holiday during the stand-off and had also been out of the country on security visits to Europe in previous critical days in his other role as National Security Adviser.

A Government source said: ‘There is going to be a big row about Sir Mark Sedwill’s job sharing. He can’t be Cabinet Secretary and on some security jolly every time the Civil Service needs leadership.

Sir Philip has never been short of controversy after admitting fault in a series of high-profile blunders when he was the most senior politician at the Department for Transport. A No 10 source said he was a ‘poster boy for failure’.

Many Ministers were also shocked he kept his job after the Windrush scandal that saw Home Secretary Amber Rudd fall on her sword. A probe found that Ms Rudd had been badly advised by her officials, but Sir Philip survived the row by allegedly going ‘missing’.

In his incendiary resignation statement, Sir Philip said the campaign against him included ‘false’ claims that he had briefed the media against Ms Patel.

He added: ‘The Home Secretary categorically denied any involvement in this campaign to the Cabinet Office. I regret I do not believe her. I believe these events give me very strong grounds to claim constructive, unfair dismissal and I will be pursuing that claim in the courts.

‘I know that resigning in this way will have serious implications for me personally – the Cabinet Office offered me a financial settlement that would have avoided this outcome.

 I hope that my stand may help in maintaining the quality of Government in our country – which includes hundreds of thousands of civil servants, loyally dedicated to delivering this Government’s agenda.’

Critics of the Government leapt on the row to accuse Boris Johnson of declaring war on the Civil Service. Dave Penman, of the FDA public servants’ union, said Sir Philip’s treatment ‘demonstrates once again the destructive consequences of anonymous briefings against public servants who are unable to publicly defend themselves’.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who heads up the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said it was ‘appalling’ that the situation at the Home Office was allowed to deteriorate to such a level.

One, of many, Cabinet Ministers sprang to Ms Patel’s defence – praising her determination in ‘tackling incompetence in the Home Office’. He also said she was the victim of ‘snobbery from Oxbridge intellectuals’.

Paid more than the PM, it was a miracle he was still in his job: How Sir Philip Rutnam’s name has become a byword for bungled advice and toxic clashes with Ministers 

Most people would have never heard of Sir Philip Rutnam, 54, before his highly unusual resignation yesterday morning.

Critics of Boris Johnson’s Government and his sweeping reforms to the troubled immigration system will have a new hero following the incendiary walkout, but they will be choosing an unlikely champion in the man paid more than the Prime Minister, yet lucky not to have been axed on numerous occasions.

For those who have kept a keen eye on Whitehall over the past decade, the name Rutnam is a byword for bungled advice and toxic clashes with Ministers.

Dubbed ‘Sir Calamity’ by exasperated Downing Street officials, Rutnam – who was paid £175,000 with a gold-plated pension as Home Office Permanent Secretary – always seemed to be ‘missing’ when his neck was on the line. 

Home Secretary Priti Patel’s permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam resigned today with an extraordinary blast at his former boss over a ‘vicious and orchestrated’ campaign against him 

In the rare times he has been under pressure, in a classic mandarin style he had always been able to brazen his involvement out, often leaving MPs gobsmacked by his excuses.

In the wake of the Windrush immigration scandal that ousted former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, Rutnam was hauled before the Commons to explain his role in the affair. ‘I’ve been in the department for a year – I’m not an expert on the immigration system,’ was his curt reply.

That 2018 appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee has become something of parliamentary folklore after Rutnam twice scolded his political interrogators for not providing him with their questions before he appeared.

A former Home Office insider said Rutnam, whose Who’s Who entry says his hobby is ‘taking family up mountains’, had been ‘nowhere to be seen’ during the scandal and two more junior officials were moved on instead.

They blasted: ‘Then, just like now, he oversaw a culture of politicised leaks and egotistical briefing from the department and has managed to avoid taking any responsibility or face any consequence for the Windrush scandal, instead staying in the role he gets paid more than the Prime Minister for, and throwing his deputy and others under the bus.’

But after the Tories’ Election victory in December, Rutnam must have realised he was on thin ice. Senior figures in the Tory party had previously called for his head, including Johnson ally Shaun Bailey.

The candidate for London Mayor said Rutnam had to go to ‘restore confidence in the Home Office’.

Born in South London, Rutnam attended Dulwich College, the same school as Nigel Farage. His career path was that of a consummate mandarin. Public school, Cambridge and a spell at the Treasury.

He briefly worked in finance for Morgan Stanley before becoming a quango-crat and a senior official at the Business department.

Earlier in his career, he had been humble enough to admit when he was wrong. During the 2012 West Coast rail fiasco, he was forced to admit ‘deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes’, adding that ‘more important than the role of Ministers is the role of senior officials, starting with me’.

However, in true Whitehall fashion, such remarkable disasters did not stop him climbing the greasy pole.

The catalogue of Whitehall controversies that earned him nickname 

Brexit: Criticised for being a Project Fear scaremonger, claiming the Army could have to be deployed to protect Britain’s borders if we left the EU without a deal.

Illegal immigration: Admitted that 739 migrants had crossed the Channel between January 2018 and February 2019, including 135 who escaped being intercepted by Border Force or the French authorities.

Windrush scandal: Accused of costing Home Secretary Amber Rudd her job after blunders over the deportation of Jamaicans. Then he went ‘missing’.

George Osborne said he had ‘seen the completely misleading emails [Ms Rudd] was getting from her Civil Servants on targets’.

Sir Philip admitted the Home Office paid out £21 million after mistakenly detaining more than 850 people. The TaxPayers’ Alliance described these as ‘huge payouts amid shameful episodes’.

Compounding the issue, Sir Philip shocked MPs by saying: ‘I’ve been in the department a year, I’m not an expert.’

West Coast rail fiasco: Sir Philip was the Department for Transport’s top official in 2012 when First Group won the franchise for what was said to be a ‘preposterous’ £13 billion.

The derailed incumbent, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains, took legal action and the Government was forced to admit officials had made ‘deeply regrettable and completely unacceptable mistakes’.

Sir Philip took a share of the blame, saying: ‘More important than the role of Ministers is the role of senior officials, starting with me.’

Network Rail controversy: Oversaw a £38 billion improvement programme of the state-run network. But the Transport Secretary later said it had to be ‘reset’, including halting an electrification project for ‘costing more and taking longer’.

HS2: Ran the transport wing of the rail project when MPs were told in 2015 that it would cost only £56 billion. Today, the final bill is estimated at £106 billion.

Emergency services’ new communications system: Supervised its introduction, only for the National Audit Office to say it was running at least three years late and £3.1 billion over budget.

Foreign students row: After the Home Office confessed to ‘significant mistakes and misjudgments’ over foreign students wrongly accused of cheating in English language tests to qualify to stay in the UK, Sir Philip said there was ‘real concern’ that ‘hundreds of innocent individuals, possibly more’ are continuing to maintain their innocence after being erroneously caught.

Police Tasers: Sir Philip tried to block an announcement last September that more police would be allowed to carry the stun guns. Ironically, the Government will finally announce these measures today.

Leaks: Colleagues claimed he presided over a ‘culture of politicised leaks’ at the Home Office.

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