Priti Patel is involved in a bitter clash over coronavirus with Labour’s Yvette Cooper, who has accused the home secretary of dodging scrutiny by MPs.
But in a furious exchange of letters Ms Patel has accused Ms Cooper, who chairs the House of Commons home affairs committee, of being “adversarial” and wasting civil servants’ time during the coronavirus crisis.
The row is over demands by Ms Cooper – in no fewer than six letters – for the home secretary to appear before her committee to answer questions about the Home Office’s role in battling COVID-19.
The allegation against Ms Patel of evading scrutiny comes as her non-appearance, so far, at any of the daily Downing Street briefings on coronavirus is also being criticised, given the Home Office’s key role.
There will also be a suspicion that Ms Patel does not want to appear before Ms Cooper’s committee because she would be asked about bullying allegations and the resignation of her former Home Office permanent secretary Sir Philip Rutnam.
Ms Patel strenuously denies all allegations against her, which are still the subject of an ongoing Whitehall inquiry.
Ms Cooper says MPs want to quiz Ms Patel about issues arising out of the coronavirus crisis; such as domestic violence, policing and enforcement, testing and personal protection equipment for frontline staff, and quarantine arrangements.
But an angry Ms Patel has told Ms Cooper: “I am disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges and I am very sorry that you have declined my offer of regular briefings with officials and ministers at the Home Office.
“I feel my proposal strikes an important balance between ensuring the department receives that vital scrutiny, while ensuring the committee can receive operationally sensitive, and sometimes classified, updates at this time of national emergency.
“As I have said to you before, I am absolutely committed to ensuring the Home Office is better open to scrutiny and transparency.
“But I am conscious of the need to give Home Office members of staff the time and space they need to carry out their essential duty of keeping the British public safe during this national crisis.
“Nonetheless, I will make myself and my permanent secretaries available for a session with the committee, on our response to COVID-19, towards the end of the month.”
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