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Raab: the backlash

Raab: the backlash


Last week, Dominic Raab resigned after a report found he’d “humiliated staff” and acted in an “intimidating” manner towards civil servants. What does it tell us about the relationship between civil servants and ministers?

“It has just come in the last few moments, the deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has said that he will resign from Rishi Sunak’s cabinet…””

Sky News

On Friday, Dominic Raab resigned as the UK’s deputy prime minister and justice secretary.

His resignation came after a 44 page report found he’d “humiliated staff” and acted in an “intimidating” manner towards civil servants.

The report – led by employment barrister Adam Tolley KC – had been commissioned last November after prime minister Rishi Sunak asked for an independent inquiry into two formal complaints against Dominic Raab.

“This is a classic example of the kind of butterfly effect that you get in Westminster when one story breaks and that kind of rolls into another bigger story…”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

This is Cat Neilan, Tortoise’s political editor.

“The original story was about Gavin Williamson bullying which we actually broke here at Tortoise and after he left, there was several stories running after that including some about Dominic Raab… probably the most colourful story that came out of that time was one in which he was alleged to have thrown a tomato at someone.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

Although the report didn’t mention Dominic Raab allegedly throwing his tomatoes across a table, it did find that he was “unreasonably difficult to deal with”, and was sometimes “abrasive”.

“Dominic Raab was five years in top cabinet jobs when late last year, complaints about his behaviour surfaced from every one of them.”

Channel 4 News

Ever since the first complaints came out though, Dominic Raab has denied any wrongdoing… . 

And while the inquiry was underway, he didn’t step back. He often appeared on the morning ministerial interview rounds. 

“He had a very visible role in Rishi Sunak’s government throughout the five month period of this investigation, and he frequently sat next to Rishi Sunak during PMQs which is a real clear indication of Rishi Sunak’s long-term commitment to Dominic Raab.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

When the report did land, it was clear Rishi Sunak might struggle to support his political ally.

“Raab had committed to resigning if the bullying complaints were upheld and two of them were upheld and so he had to fall on his sword.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

So, what does Dominic Raab’s resignation tell us about the relationship between civil servants and ministers?


“If these kinds of things amount to bullying then I think it puts a handbrake, a paralysing effect on ministers delivering for the British people and that can’t be right.”

Dominic Raab, GB News

In interviews after his resignation Dominic Raab described  the report as  “flawed”.  He defended minister’s rights to give what he described as “direct critical feedback” on briefings and submissions. 

“I’m very confident that I didn’t behave in a bullying way. Most of these allegations were dismissed out of hand and I think people are watching this will be surprised that in scrutinising civil servants, in making sure that millions of pounds of taxpayers money is not squandered being able to pull very senior civil servants, and not junior members of staff up, and say look I don’t have the basic information to decide this, that was one of the things one which I was found to be bullying because I’d offended someone.”

Dominic Raab, GB News

And he’s been critical of civil servants, claiming there was a “cultural resistance” to some of his policies, including his proposed plans on the Bill of Rights – which was to reform the law relating to human rights – and on the parole system.

“What we have seen quite a lot of in recent years is Conservatives blaming officials for when policies don’t happen, aren’t implemented properly, or aren’t implemented at all, they blame what they call the blob, and they claim that the civil service is trying to work against ministers.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

It’s led to a wider backlash among some Conservatives towards the civil service. 

Here’s Conservative MP and former cabinet minister, Jacob Rees-Mogg.

“Any minister would be annoyed when civil servants fail to carry out the policy of the elected government and I’m afraid this is a terrible shift in power away from those who are democratically elected, democratically appointed, to those who aren’t, to the civil service, to the bureaucracy.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP

This has compounded a growing problem for the Prime Minister.


“Both his opponents within the party and his opponents outside the party are pointing to the fact that in the last six months, three of his close allies and cabinet ministers have either resigned or had to leave, been sacked.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

Gavin Williamson was the first minister to resign under Rishi Sunak over allegations of bullying.

He was shortly followed by Nadhim Zahawi who was dismissed over his tax affairs.  

Dominic Raab’s resignation now takes that tally to three and it has forced another mini cabinet reshuffle.

“Breaking news again, the prime minister has just appointed Oliver Dowden as his deputy prime minister, now Oliver Dowden, again a key ally of Rishi Sunak…”

Sky News

But it has left some in Whitehall questioning whether Rishi Sunak can govern effectively if his ministers are at odds with civil servants. 

“One of the outcomes that we will see from this episode with Dominic Raab is a bit of a civil war between ministers and officials and ministers blaming officials, the blob as they call them, for things not happening… I suspect going into the general election we’re going to see a lot more of that.”

Cat Neilan, political editor at Tortoise

This episode was written and mixed Imy Harper.