Former senior civil servant accused officials behind small boats policy of 'harbouring racist views'

A former senior civil servant criticised some of the policymakers behind the illegal migration bill, accusing them of "harbouring racist views" about immigrants, it has emerged.

The senior policy official was in key ministerial meetings on the small boats policy, including in meetings with the then prime minister Boris Johnson.

Her claims emerged as part of an employment tribunal that has now concluded.

She says from her perspective the head of the illegal migration task force Michael Bourke and his deputy directors saw "the ultra-hostile environment towards unwanted foreigners as both being practical, necessary and gratifying".

In formal court documents seen by Sky News, the ex-head of policy in the illegal migration task force, who has been a civil servant for 12 years, said she had repeatedly tried to move conversations away from "prejudice and blame, to objective assessment and accountability".

Mr Bourke has stated his position is that his conduct towards the former civil servant was fair and during the time she was on the task force she was "negative and problematic, leading colleagues to feel disrespected, overburdened or undermined".

He denies she was treated less favourably and discriminated against on the grounds of her race or sex.

She states her approach would have involved considering the legal risks and the "potential waste of taxpayers' money in case of legal challenge".

But instead she says the approach was "racist ultra-hostility" which a no-returns policy would involve, and she says they saw her as "an unwelcome visitor to their task force".

In one exchange from the court documents, she recounts how she felt her dual nationality was called into question, with a senior figure in the department asking whether her French nationality would be a "problem" when British and French interests did not align.

She says she replied that as a British civil servant she was bound by the civil service code.

Set up by Boris Johnson to tackle the "small boats" issue, the illegal migration task force started in November 2021 and started out with three ministerial meetings a week, some of which the prime minister at the time himself attended.

After raising concerns, the former civil servant said her role was split into two and she felt she was managed out.

She said she was seen as troublesome for having views contrary to the consensus.

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In one particular high-profile meeting with the cabinet secretary where she was on a conference call with the head of the civil service Simon Case as well as others, she was asked to leave the call without any reason given.

She says she was told later by a colleague that Mr Case wanted her to leave the call as he had known about her complaints of racial discrimination and harassment within the Cabinet Office.

The Cabinet Office said she was not given permission to be on the call.

In the end, she said: "I believe that speaking up against racism was a career death sentence at the illegal migration task force."

The Cabinet Office said in response to the released documents: "These allegations are completely unfounded and the Cabinet Office has always firmly denied all of the claims in this case.

"We were prepared to robustly defend them in court.

"The claimant has withdrawn all of these claims and we have agreed to that.

"No payment has been made, including in relation to the legal costs incurred."