British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday backed one of his senior ministers after an independent inquiry concluded she had broken rules following allegations of bullying of her staff, prompting the report's author quit.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, one of the most senior figures in the government, had not met the standards set under Britain's Ministerial Code which states ministers should treat officials with respect, independent adviser Alex Allan concluded.
However, a government statement said Johnson noted that concerns had not been raised at the time and that Patel was unaware of the impact of her actions. She apologised for any upset she may have caused.
"The prime minister has full confidence in the home secretary and considers this matter now closed," the government statement said.
However, Allan immediately quit, with opponents saying Johnson was giving the green light to bullying.
"I recognise that it is for the Prime Minister to make a judgement on whether actions by a minister amount to a breach of the Ministerial Code," Allan said. "But I feel that it is right that I should now resign from my position."
The issue comes at a difficult time for Johnson, who is trying to reset his government after his top adviser Dominic Cummings left Downing Street last week and the prime minister grapples with divisions in his ruling Conservative Party over his COVID-19 policies.
Patel had been accused of demeaning treatment of her staff, prompting Johnson to launch an inquiry in March to establish the facts.
The government statement said Allan had found Patel had become "justifiably in many instances" frustrated by her department's lack of support.
"He also found, however, that the Home Secretary had not always treated her civil servants with the consideration and respect that would be expected, and her approach on occasion has amounted to behaviour that can be described as bullying in terms of the impact felt by individuals," the statement said.
Patel said it had never been her intention to upset anyone.
"I am sorry that my behaviour in the past has upset people," she said in a statement. "I acknowledge that I am direct and have at times got frustrated. I would like to thank the Prime Minister for his support."
Johnson's government has had an uneasy relationship with senior officials, with several leaving their posts since his election win last December, as part of what was viewed as Cummings' desire to shake up the civil service.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, home affairs spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said the full report should be published and the Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life should investigate Johnson and Patel.