Dominic Raab resignation raises questions about Rishi Sunak’s judgment

Dominic Raab resignation raises questions about Rishi Sunak’s judgment

Dominic Raab

Sources say PM did not ask deputy to go despite bullying inquiry finding he engaged in ‘abuse or misuse of power’

Dominic Raab has been forced to quit as deputy prime minister after Rishi Sunak begrudgingly accepted an official inquiry that found his close ally bullied civil servants by acting in an intimidating and aggressive manner.

A five-month investigation by a leading employment barrister found that Raab, as foreign secretary, had engaged in “abuse or misuse of power” to undermine or humiliate staff. He was “intimidating and insulting” in meetings at the Ministry of Justice.

After his departure on Friday, Raab launched an attack on “activist civil servants” who he said were trying to block the work of government. He had told the inquiry that the civil service had “culture resistance” to policies, including on Brexit, and on Friday claimed the threshold for bullying was “too low”.

Downing Street sources said Sunak had not asked Raab to go, but that his former deputy had offered to resign and the prime minister had accepted. In his reply to Raab’s resignation letter, Sunak lavished praise on Raab and questioned historical processes; while No 10 offered only lukewarm endorsement of the report’s findings. It resulted in the prime minister being accused of failing to stand up for civil servants.

Raab, who was justice secretary as well as deputy prime minister, had faced multiple formal complaints over his dealings with civil servants across three departments including claims, first revealed by the Guardian, that he bullied and belittled staff, driving some to tears or causing them to throw up before meetings.

The investigation by Adam Tolley KC found that Raab branded civil servants’ work “utterly useless” and “woeful”. Some staff said they suffered stress and anxiety after dealing with him, and felt forced to take unpaid leave or, in one case, stress-related sick leave.

Tolley rejected claims by some Conservative MPs that civil servants had been “snowflakes”, stressing he did not find “any material lack of resilience” among officials who had “many years of experience” working with ministers.

The report, however, found “no persuasive evidence” that Raab shouted or swore, and dismissed allegations about his behaviour when he headed the Brexit department.

But in an indignant opinion piece in the Telegraph, Raab dismissed a “Kafkaesque saga” and suggested it would encourage some officials to target ministers who “pursue bold reforms” and “persevere in holding civil servants to account”.

His resignation probably represents the end of his frontline political career, with allies admitting he is expected to lose his marginal Surrey seat to the Liberal Democrats at the general election next year. Raab told the BBC he wanted to “let the dust settle a little bit” before making a decision about his future.

The departure of such a close political ally is a major blow to Sunak, who is facing questions over his judgment after civil servants flagged “issues” with Raab in his previous departments before the prime minister brought him back into government.

Sunak glossed over the substance of the complaints, while Downing Street only condemned the bullying of civil servants “in general terms” and refused to explicitly acknowledge that Raab had broken the ministerial code.

In his letter to Raab, Sunak said his deputy prime minister had “rightly” undertaken to resign if the report made any finding of bullying whatsoever. “You have kept your word,” he said.

“But it is clear that there have been shortcomings in the historic process that have negatively affected everyone involved. We should learn from this how to better handle such matters in future.”

He went on to praise Raab’s record and his support during the Tory leadership campaign. Downing Street rejected calls for a wider inquiry into ministerial bullying but indicated that lessons could be learned about the handling of complaints.

Oliver Dowden, a senior Tory “warrior against woke”, will take on the role of deputy prime minister in addition to his responsibilities at the Cabinet Office, while Alex Chalk, a barrister and former solicitor general, has been appointed as the new justice secretary.

Tolley confirmed that top officials at the Foreign Office and Ministry of Justice had warned Raab about his behaviour. He said Raab’s manner – which the MP himself described as “inquisitorial, direct, impatient and fastidious” – was not in every case intentional, but he was a “highly intelligent man” who ought to have realised the impact on officials, and made changes.

Raab’s resignation letter said the conclusions of the report created a “dangerous precedent” by setting the threshold for bullying “so low” that it could have a “chilling” effect on ministers trying to make changes.

The MP said he felt “duty bound” to resign, having undertaken to do so if the report found against him. He claimed that all but two of the eight complaints against him had been “dismissed”, but Tolley found evidence of poor behaviour in six of them.

Raab refused to apologise. Tolley said: “The DPM has expressed regret in relation to the impact on individuals, which has been communicated to him for the first time in the course of the investigation. He has not offered any apology, given that he does not accept that he has done anything wrong.”

But Raab said he was “genuinely sorry for any unintended stress or offence that any officials felt, as a result of the pace, standards and challenge that I brought to the Ministry of Justice”.

A Ministry of Justice source said they were relieved. “There is a noted sense of deep relief in the MoJ today. The lack of remorse from Raab is upsetting but entirely predictable. The behaviour evidenced in the report falls so far below any standard that would be acceptable in any workplace.

“Dominic Raab’s behaviour was the worst-kept secret in Westminster. Through the weight of evidence from three departments and his subsequent response, the public now has a sense of his true colours.”

Sunak had faced criticism for allowing Raab – the second member of his cabinet forced to resign amid bullying allegations after Gavin Williamson last year – to stay in post while the investigation by Tolley was carried out.

The prime minister received the report on Thursday morning before consulting with Tolley and his ministerial ethical adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus. He spoke with Raab by phone on Friday morning.

A government source said Downing Street had been planning to publish the report on Friday afternoon, suggesting Raab had “jumped before he was pushed”.

A small number of Tory MPs defenced Raab. Jacob Rees-Mogg told Channel 4 News: “I think his resignation was unnecessary and the PM should not have accepted it. It seems to me there is one way accountability. Civil servants can be as incompetent and useless and fail to do deliver on government policy and there is no consequence for them. This is undemocratic.”

However, some Tory MPs are privately concerned that Sunak’s handling of the row, in the wake of the Nadhim Zahawi tax affair, would further undermine his pledge to instil “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” of his government as he tries to move on from the Boris Johnson era.

Tolley conducted 66 interviews over several months, including four interviews with Raab, which took two and a half days. He said he could not make a finding on a complaint from Raab’s time as Brexit secretary because of a lack of evidence and the passage of time.

the guardian 

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