The Cabinet Office has dismissed a complaint about the equalities minister by arguing her tirade at a journalist was issued from a personal Twitter account.
Kemi Badenoch was criticised for accusing Nadine White of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour after the HuffPost reporter sent a standard request for comment to a government press office.
The minister published correspondence between the journalist and officials in launching the attack, which led to an alert about the risk to media freedom being registered with the Council of Europe.
The Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Alex Chisholm, responded to a formal complaint from HuffPost by saying Badenoch is responsible for her own conduct on her social media account.
In a letter, he wrote: “I note that the tweets were not issued from a government Twitter account, but instead from a personal Twitter account.
“The minister is personally responsible for deciding how to act and conduct herself, and for justifying her own actions and conduct.
“As such, this is a matter on which the minister would be best placed to offer a response. I note in addition the prime minister’s press secretary has already provided comments on this matter.”
The Conservative MP for Saffron Walden’s Twitter account describes her as “Treasury & Equalities Minister”.
Boris Johnson’s senior adviser on ethnic minorities, Samuel Kasumu, has reportedly suggested Badenoch may have broken the ministerial code with the tweets.
Downing Street stuck by the minister but the press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said the MP’s handling of the issue “would not be how we in No 10 deal with these things”.
White had asked a government press office why the equalities minister had not appeared in a video targeted at minority groups to promote the Covid-19 vaccination campaign.
Badenoch subsequently tweeted that HuffPost had sought to “sow distrust by making up claims I refused to take part in a video campaign” and said it was “creepy and bizarre to fixate on who didn’t participate in a video and demand they explain themselves”.
She also shared screenshots of two emails sent by White to the department.
Labour said the minister had exposed the reporter to a “torrent of abuse online” and called for an investigation.
The Cabinet Office, which declined to comment on Chisholm’s letter, has not launched an investigation into Badenoch.
Responding to the statement in an article, Jess Brammar, the editor of HuffPost, wrote: “It is absurd to any reasonable person to suggest that the words of a minister are somehow less accountable if they are written by them on Twitter than if they appeared in a press release, or were given in an interview.”