The Prime Minister has voiced his support for his deputy after a series of bullying allegations and claims that staff in his department were “scared to go into his office”.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, has been accused of being “abrasive,” and “demeaning,” to staff during his time at the Foreign Office, while reports have emerged in recent days that staff were offered a “route out” of his department when he was reinstated as Justice Secretary in October
The former Foreign Secretary has also been accused of throwing tomatoes from a salad across a room in a fit of anger, while a leaked survey of staff from his private office in 2019 showed several claimed to have been bullied or harassed at work.
In today’s PMQs (16 November), Raab told MPs he is “confident that [he] behaved professionally throughout” his time as a minister and first heard of the formal complaint against him this morning. He added that he had asked the Prime Minister to set up an independent investigation.
After Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Angela Rayner called the Deputy PM’s behaviour “unacceptable” and asked what he was “still doing here”, Raab responded: “I will thoroughly rebut and refute any claims made.” He also argued that Rayner “hasn’t put a specific point to [him],” adding that “if she wants to I’ll be very happy to address it.”
Staff ‘felt demeaned’ by Raab
Raab was so demeaning and abrasive to junior colleagues that many were “scared” to enter his office, the top civil servant under the then-foreign secretary has alleged, in the latest accusation against the embattled minister.
Lord McDonald said he raised his concerns to Cabinet Office investigators at the time, and urged Rishi Sunak to “have another look” at bullying complaints procedures.
Despite the warnings, the Prime Minister said today (15 November) that he will stand by his deputy and Justice Secretary. Sunak continued to insist he is not aware of “any formal complaint” about Raab’s behaviour and urged anyone with concerns to come forward.
Lord McDonald, a crossbench peer who was the Foreign Office’s permanent secretary when Raab led the department, said the minister “couldn’t be made to see” the impact he was having on staff.
“Colleagues did not complain to me formally, it was kind of their professional pride to cope, but many were scared to go into his office,” he told Times Radio.
“His sort of defence was that he treated everybody in the building in the same way. He was as abrasive and controlling with junior ministers and senior officials as he was with his private secretaries.”
Sunak has insisted he is “not aware of any formal complaints” about Raab as he rejected the “characterisation” of his deputy that has emerged in a series of reports.
Lord McDonald confirmed he raised the minister’s behaviour with the Cabinet Office’s proprietary and ethics team at the time, with Raab serving as foreign secretary from 2019 to 2021.
“It was language, it was tone, he could be very curt with people and he did this in front of a lot of other people. I think people felt demeaned,” the former official said.
“And I tried to have that conversation with him, I had several conversations with him. But it wouldn’t surprise me today if he said ‘I don’t recognise that’, because I felt at the time that my message wasn’t landing.”
Sunak, speaking to ITV in Bali, where he is attending the G20 summit, continued to stand by Raab.
“I’m not and have not been aware of any formal complaint about Dominic’s behaviour,” the PM said.
“Of course there are established processes in place for people to raise concerns in all workplaces. If people have concerns they should raise them because unless people raise them, it’s hard for people to actually then look into them and make any changes that are necessary.
“So I would urge people to do that. Those processes are confidential and it’s right that they are used.”
What are the other allegations against Raab?
Among the allegations Raab is facing is that staff were offered a “route out” of his department when he was reinstated as Justice Secretary in October, according to the Guardian.
The newspaper reported that the Cabinet minister created a “culture of fear” in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) during his previous stint there, acting in a “demeaning”, “rude” and “aggressive” manner, and that his behaviour went beyond “unprofessional”, with one source branding him a “bully”.
The Guardian reported that around 15 staff from the Justice Secretary’s private office were taken into a room when he returned to his post, where it was acknowledged they may be worried about his conduct.They were said to have been given the option to move roles, with some visibly emotional.
Further accounts emerged later, with the Mirror reporting the Justice Secretary has acquired the nickname “The Incinerator” because he “burns through” staff. Additionally, the Sun suggested Raab once hurled tomatoes from a salad across a room in a fit of anger – an allegation branded “rotten” by shadow minister David Lammy.
A spokesman Raab said the salad claim was “nonsense”.
ITV News published a leaked poll of staff in Raab’s private office from 2019, during his tenure as Foreign Secretary, which showed that eight people claimed to have been bullied or harassed at work.
The poll also showed that 15 staff reported witnessing another person being bullied or treated unfairly, although the results were anonymous, meaning it is not possible to ascertain the subject of the claims.
ITV News said 40% of those surveyed in Raab’s private office reported personal experience of bullying or harassment. But the broadcaster pointed out that only 20 people were asked the question due to the small scale of the team, and seven did not respond.
One source alleged the Cabinet Office had been informed of concerns over Raab’s behaviour when he was Brexit secretary, according to ITV News.
The Observer reported that the correspondence took the form of a document alleging “unprofessional, even bullying, conduct of the minister towards his private office”.
The “formal expression of concern” was said to have been sent by a senior official in the Brexit department.
What has Raab said?
A number of Conservative colleagues have come to Raab’s defence, with Helen Grant MP saying she witnessed a “very decent” minister with “high professional standards” when the pair came into contact during Raab’s time as foreign secretary.
Eddie Hughes said he had never seen Raab be rude to anyone when he worked in the housing and Brexit departments.
Raab’s spokesman said: “Dominic has acted with professionalism and integrity in all of his government roles. He has an excellent record of driving positive change in multiple government departments by working well with officials. He holds everyone, and most of all himself, to the high standards that the British people would expect of their government.”
Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representing senior civil servants, called on Sunak to reform the complaints system to help address a “toxic work culture” in Whitehall. In a letter, Penman urged the Prime Minister to appoint a new independent adviser on ministers’ interests. The post has been vacant since Lord Geidt quit in June.
“As we have seen over the last few weeks, there is increasing scrutiny over the conduct of ministers and, in particular, accusations of bullying, behaviour that has no place in a modern workplace,” it said.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner demanded an independent investigation into the Deputy PM - which Raab today (16 November) said he had called for while he was questioned at PMQs.
“Rishi Sunak clearly knew about Dominic Raab’s reputation when he reappointed him to his Cabinet,” she said.