"No place for bullying", UK PM Johnson tells ministers, officials

FILE PHOTO: British Prime Minster Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel apply hand sanitiser during a visit to North Yorkshire Police to meet with recently graduated police officers in Northallerton, Britain July 30, 2020. Charlotte Graham/Pool via REUTERS

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told officials on Monday there was “no place for bullying” in his government, trying to ease concerns after he stood by his interior minister against charges of bad behaviour.

However, in a letter written to ministers and permanent secretaries - the most senior figures in government departments - there was also an implicit warning that when the government faced “unprecedented challenges”, politicians and officials should keep “internal conversations private”.

Last week, Johnson had hoped to “reset” his government after two of his most senior advisers said they were leaving, aiming to improve relations with his own Conservative lawmakers, with government officials and with the media.

But he drew criticism when he backed interior minister Priti Patel over charges of bullying and has also struggled to control his agenda after leaked reports of meetings have offered glimpses of upcoming strategy and sometimes colourful language.

“Given the unprecedented challenges we currently face as a nation, relationships of mutual trust and respect between politicians and their officials are paramount. This includes keeping internal conversations private,” he wrote in the letter.

“There is a particular duty on ministers and permanent secretaries to create jointly across government a culture which is professional, respectful, focused and ambitious for change in which there is no place for bullying.”

Reporting by Elizabeth Piper; editing by Michael Holden