Dominic Raab ended his ministerial career on Friday with an angry volley of criticism over the way he was sacked and claims his designation as a bully had “paralyzed” ministers. Trying to do my job.
Britain’s late Deputy Prime Minister won’t get much sympathy from the civil service. Accounts of Raab’s “abrasive” approach are widespread in Whitehall; Many officers were afraid to work with him.
But Raab’s effective dismissal raises questions – shared privately by others in senior circles of the governing Conservative Party – about the point at which a hard-driving, demanding boss can push through tough policies. Trying to, becomes a bully.
The fallout of the case has only just begun and Rishi Sunak, the prime minister, is keen to ensure that ministers are not restrained in their ability to challenge officials.
Criticizing the findings of a report by employment lawyer Adam Tolley Casey, in his resignation letter to Sunak, Raab said, “In setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent.”
Raab wrote, “It will encourage fake complaints against ministers and have a chilling effect on those seeking change on behalf of your government – and ultimately the British people.”
Dave Penman, head of the FDA civil service union, said in the wake of Raab’s resignation there should now be an inquiry into a wider culture of bullying in Whitehall. Downing Street said there would be no such inquiry.
Penman said his union’s research suggested one in six senior civil servants had witnessed “unacceptable workplace behavior by a minister” in more than 20 government departments in the past year.
The government’s ministerial code says bullying will not be tolerated, but does not define exactly what it is. It says that “the working relationship, including that of civil servants” must be “just and proper”.
The Tolley report therefore sets a benchmark for the kind of behavior that could lead to the sacking of a minister, given that Sunak effectively concluded that Raab had been shown to be a bully.
Sunak wrote to the outgoing Raab, “You – rightly – promised to resign if the report revealed any of the bullying.” “You have kept your word.”
Tolley investigated eight separate claims of bullying across three departments, but his harshest criticism focused on Raab’s behavior at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
The lawyer concluded that the former minister had acted in a manner of intimidation involving “inappropriate and persistently aggressive conduct” at a work meeting.
“It also involved abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermined or humiliated. They introduced an undue punitive element,” Tolley concluded. “His conduct was experienced by the affected person as undermining or humiliating.”
Sunak was apparently unsure whether Tolley’s findings were offenses of dismissal. Downing Street confirmed the prime minister had spoken to lawyers on Thursday to try to find out more about what happened.
By Friday morning, when he spoke to Raab, the prime minister was clear that his deputy would have to go. But Sunak was uneasy with the process and the potential repercussions for other ministers.
Downing Street gave only a lukewarm endorsement of Tolley’s report – calling it “detailed and exhaustive” – and Raab was given sufficient time to present his side of the events before it was published in full.
in a scathing Daily Telegraph ArticleRaab called Tolley’s report “flawed”, claiming he was the victim of a “Kafkaesque saga” and “trial by the media for six months”.
Sunak has asked the Cabinet Office to look into how to deal with such complaints in the future. “It is clear that the historical process has had shortcomings,” he wrote to Raab.
Downing Street suggested it wanted to limit the use of historical and previously unreported allegations of misconduct to undermine ministers, although Sunak’s spokesman stopped short of saying there should be a time limit.
The spokesman said Sunak wanted ministers “to be able to ensure accountability, to high standards, to firmly challenge and scrutinize the work of civil servants and other ministers”.
Some senior Tories have claimed that there is a danger that the playing field in Whitehall has been tilted too far in favor of the authorities in the wake of the Raab affair. A Tory official said, “We cannot sack civil servants as ministers.”
Sir Bob Neill, chair of the House of Commons justice committee, said ministers should be able to apply pressure to staff in a professional manner. “We need to be careful in the way we think about the system,” he said.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former cabinet minister, had previously taken a dig at “snowflake” civil servants.
But Jill Rutter, senior fellow at the Institute for Government think-tank, said most officials just wanted to do a good job for their minister and country and didn’t want to go through the pain of making an official complaint.
Rutter said the 47-page Tolley report could now set out the terms of engagement between ministers and civil servants and what a “fair and proper” relationship looks like.
Raab’s departure was a pivotal moment for Sunak, who last October pledged to “integrity, professionalism and accountability” at every level of his government, but who named his close aide as deputy prime minister despite allegations about his conduct. Appointed as
Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer said, “The big question for the prime minister is why he was so weak that he appointed him in the first place.” “The second question for the prime minister is why he hasn’t sacked him.”