Priti Patel is demanding but she is not a bully, says Home Office minister

Allegations: Priti Patel is said to want an inquiry into leaks alleging that MI5 does not trust her over briefings: PA

A Home Office minister today conceded that Priti Patel is a “demanding” boss but insisted she is innocent of charges of bullying.

James Brokenshire also denied a report that the Security Service, MI5, do not trust Ms Patel and have been limiting the amount of secret intelligence they show to her.

Ms Patel has been the subject of a string of leaks about her clashing with civil servants and creating an “atmosphere of fear”, including that she tried to remove the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir Philip Rutnam.

Mr Brokenshire, the security minister, described the reports as “absolute nonsense” and said there was “huge frustration” about the “false assertions that have been made publicly”.

Asked by Sky News if she was a bully, he said: “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. I think the Home Secretary is absolutely focused on the public good, the agenda that we’ve set around policing, on immigration and indeed around counter-terrorism and security.”

Ms Patel and Sir Philip fired off a heavyweight denial of the allegation that MI5 did not trust her, an accusation seen as very serious because it suggested she was unable to do her job properly. Ms Patel’s allies said she was demanding a leak inquiry.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary and permanent secretary are deeply concerned about the number of false allegations appearing in the media.”

A Government spokesman responded to the MI5 allegation by saying: “The Home Secretary and MI5 have a strong and close working relationship, and baseless claims to the contrary are both wrong and against the public interest.

“The Home Secretary receives the same daily intelligence briefings as her predecessors, and no information is being withheld.”

It is not clear if Ms Patel’s request for a leak inquiry will be agreed to by the Cabinet Office’s director-general of propriety and ethics, Helen MacNamara. Cabinet Office sources say no request had been made so far to Ms MacNamara.

Former Tory Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers claimed there was an element of misogyny in the briefings against Ms Patel, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I’m sick of spiteful briefings against women in high public office. It happens again and again and I don’t believe these allegations against Priti Patel.

“I think she’s a highly effective Home Secretary and I think whoever is making these briefings should stop it because I think they are unfair and they are damaging.”