The home secretary, Priti Patel, has been accused by a group of senior MPs of avoiding scrutiny during a time of national emergency.
Patel had been due to give evidence in public to the home affairs select committee on the Home Office’s response to the coronavirus pandemic since January, but a date for a hearing is yet to be set.
The select committee chair, Yvette Cooper, has written six letters to Patel over the last three months in an effort to officially set a date for the home secretary to give evidence.
In that time, the Patel has been accused of belittling officials at the Home Office, with Sir Philip Rutnam resigning as permanent secretary amid claims of constructive dismissal and bullying.
After not replying to several of Cooper’s letters, Patel responded on Tuesday, writing that she was “disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges”.
She added that she was “very sorry” the committee declined her offer of private briefings at the Home Office, but would “make (herself)… available for a session with the committee, on our response to Covid-19, towards the end of the month”.
In reply, Cooper said the committee was preparing to meet remotely for the hearing on 15 April. “We believe that there is no reason for any delay beyond this date,” Cooper said.
“Delaying until the end of the month would clearly be inappropriate given the urgency of the public information and answers that are needed. That is why we need to hold it at the earliest opportunity, and it is why we have been asking you to come to give evidence for very many weeks in continued correspondence.
“We continue to welcome the transparent approach by other ministers including the justice secretary, work and pensions secretary, transport secretary and health secretary who have either given evidence to their select committees already or who have agreed an early date to do so.
“This is a time of national emergency where public information, reassurance, leadership, transparency and scrutiny are in the national interest. At a time like this, we therefore expect to see the home secretary and senior officials demonstrate public leadership and transparency and to be ready to answer public questions without delay.”
A Home Office spokesperson told the Guardian: “The home secretary has accepted the invitation to appear in front of the home affairs select committee before the end of April.
“As expected, she is currently leading the Home Office response during this national crisis, working tirelessly to keep the British public safe.”