UK prime minister Rishi Sunak wants a swift conclusion to an investigation he ordered into allegations of bullying against his deputy, Dominic Raab, who reportedly faces a much wider inquiry than previously thought.
Mr Raab, who is also the justice secretary and previously crossed swords with Irish ministers when he was foreign and Brexit secretary, is under investigation over allegations from at least 24 civil servants and possibly more than 30, according to a report in the Guardian.
He is accused of intimidating staff across several departments where he worked and of leaving some of them in tears. Mr Raab has denied any wrongdoing and said he makes “no apologies for having high standards”.
Speaking to Westminster journalists on Thursday after the Guardian report emerged, Mr Sunak’s spokesman said “the confirmed number” of formal complaints against Mr Raab remained at eight. However, he was unable to say if some individual complaints might involve multiple staff members.
Mr Sunak in November asked senior barrister Adam Tolley to conduct an independent investigation into the allegations against Mr Raab, a senior Tory who deputised as the country’s leader when then prime minister Boris Johnson was seriously ill with Covid in 2020.
[ Civil servants given option to move following Dominic Raab’s reappointment ]
Mr Sunak’s spokesman said the prime minister had asked for the investigation to be completed “as quickly as possible” but conceded the actual timeline was up to the independent investigator.
Officials at Mr Raab’s department, the ministry of justice, told The Irish Times that “civil servants are valued and the level of ambition is high” under his leadership.
“There is zero tolerance for bullying across the civil service ... There is an independent investigation under way and it would be inappropriate to comment further ... until it is completed,” a spokesperson said.
Mr Raab has a habit of “intimidating and belittling” civil servants, creates “a culture of fear”, sometimes “bangs the table” and ends up “literally shaking with rage”, according to a report in Civil Service World, an independent magazine distributed among Whitehall staff.
“It wasn’t that there was this inner coterie that he was polite to, or even civil to. He would shut down some advisers in the middle of a meeting and say words to the effect of: ‘Don’t talk. I don’t want to hear from you,’” one unnamed official told the magazine.
[ Sunak urges officials with concerns about Raab to come forward ]
Mr Raab has previously denied the specific allegations made in Civil Service World.
Given there is also a separate investigation into the tax affairs of another of cabinet member, Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi, the ongoing bullying investigation into Mr Raab presents Mr Sunak with a headache, but also a possible political opportunity.
Both men are seen as loyalists of former prime minister, Mr Johnson, who is believed to harbour desires of a comeback. Mr Sunak may have grounds to sack them if either is found to have breached the ministerial code.
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the appointment of Mr Raab by Mr Sunak cast a cloud over his judgment: “The cabinet he appointed is awash with sleaze and scandal, but the prime minister is too weak to do anything about it.”