The deputy Prime Minister, Dominic Raab is accused of bullying civil servants. Could this be Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s next headache?
Dominic Raab has been a Conservative MP since 2010 and has held some of the most senior positions in government.
He’s been Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, justice secretary, foreign secretary and Boris Johnson’s deputy prime minister. Now, under Rishi Sunak, he’s deputy prime minister and is back for a second term as justice secretary.
Hannah White is the director of the Institute for Government:
“Last year, he was in and out of government quite a bit. He was a prominent supporter of Rishi Sunak. So when he came back into government, Rishi Sunak bought him back in and made him the Justice Secretary.”Hannah White
It was after Rishi Sunak reappointed Dominic Raab as justice secretary last autumn that reports about his behaviour began to emerge. Civil servants who worked with him in the past accused him of bullying.
They told newspapers that he created a “culture of fear” and that he was “demeaning rather than demanding”.
Dominic Raab has always denied the allegations against him, so when two formal complaints were made he asked the prime minister to launch an inquiry:
“She asked about the complaints, I received the notification this morning, I immediately asked the Prime Minister to look into them. I believe I behaved professionally throughout, but of course I will engage thoroughly.”
Here’s Hannah White again:
“The inquiry that’s underway, by Adam Tolley KC, is to look at whether Dominic Raab has breached the ministerial code. That’s a code of ethics, which is put out by each Prime Minister to say what standards they expect of the ministers, who are working for them. And the code says that you shouldn’t bully people, and also that you should always treat people at all times with courtesy and respect.”Hannah White
Often, launching an inquiry into a minister’s alleged behaviour is a way to divert attention for a while, but that hasn’t happened in this case.
“At the last count, at the last count, the deputy prime minister was facing 24 allegations of bullying…”Keir Starmer
More people came forward. Some civil servants who worked with Dominic Raab were reportedly signed off sick due to work-related stress and he was apparently known as ‘The Incinerator’ because of how quickly he burnt through staff.
It was reported that when Dominic Raab was reappointed as Justice Secretary, roughly 15 civil servants working there were asked if they’d like to switch departments, because they were still traumatised by working for him the first time round.
One incident gained a lot of media attention: it was claimed that Dominic Raab had thrown tomatoes from a salad at civil servants in a “fit of rage.”
Dominic Raab has always strongly denied the allegations against him, and the findings of the independent inquiry are yet to be released. But, it’s proving to be another political headache for Rishi Sunak.
Earlier this month, Rishi Sunak hit an important milestone: his first 100 days in office. When he started the job, he said this:
This govt will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level
“Sir Gavin Williamson resigned as a senior minister after days of allegations about his conduct.”BBC News
“The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has sacked the chair of his Conservative Party, Nadhim Zahawi.”Sky News
And has had to defend another…
“The Home Secretary made an error of judgement but she recognised that she raised the matter and she accepted her mistake.”Rishi Sunak
The crucial question for Rishi Sunak is how much did he know about Dominic Raab’s alleged behaviour before he reappointed him?
Number 10 maintains that the prime minister was not aware of any ‘formal’ complaints – the key word here being ‘formal.’ The PM’s office has not ruled out the possibility that Rishi Sunak did know about unofficial complaints.
The whole issue shines a light on the culture at the top of government. There is a tension between civil servants and the ministers. Here’s Hannah White from the Institute for Government again:
“There’s been an attempt, I think to say, you know, this is – and this is the response that Dominic Raab himself has put out – is he’s simply a minister with very high standards who is demanding those high standards of the people that he works with.”Hannah White
The relationship between a minister and civil servants is often fraught. It’s the job of a civil servant to put a government’s policy into practice, setting aside their own political views.
This case shows that, in a pressurised environment like Westminster, when the relationship between civil servants and a minister breaks down the situation can deteriorate quickly.
“People who, in general, complain about bullying are in the words of Jacob Rees-Mogg ‘Snowflakey’; in the words of Bernard Jenkin and other senior Conservatives, he said that some people are more easily bullied than others. So this really tends to put the emphasis on, the failings of the person being bullied rather than saying, well, actually there are standards of behaviour which we should expect of ministers.”Hannah White
That’s Hannah White again, Director of the Institute for Government:
“I don’t think it’s ever easy for a civil servant to complain about a minister. There’s a real power dynamic between, a Secretary of State who is running a department and all the officials who are working within that department. So putting in a complaint is something that no civil servant would do lightly.”Hannah White
The clamour has grown so loud that Conservative MPs are openly criticising the way Rishi Sunak is handling matters…
“When you have 24 allegations against you – I read in the newspaper there are 24 – it would be very bizarre if you had someone in any other workplace who wasn’t suspended pending that investigation. MPs and ministers are not some form of special human being – I think they should just be treated like anyone else in their workplace.”Jake Berry, Conservative MP
But the prime minister says he will wait to make his judgement until he sees the results of the independent inquiry. The number of formal complaints means this could take weeks.
How Rishi Sunak responds will put his pledge to lead a government with more integrity and accountability to the test.
This episode was written and mixed by Rebecca Moore.