Deputy PM’s ‘bullying’ was little more than pulling civil servants up on poor performance
There has been a frenzy of interest in Westminster in the long-awaited investigation into allegations that Dominic Raab bullied civil servants.
But lawyer Adam Tolley KC’s report yesterday left many wondering whether Mr Raab was guilty of anything more than being a tough boss with high standards who was trying to get things done.
The former deputy prime minister was found to have acted in an ‘intimidating’ way – but not to have shouted or sworn at staff.
The report reveals the full extent of the efforts by civil servants across Whitehall to get Mr Raab pushed out of government. It covers incidents said to have occurred over several years when he served as Brexit secretary, foreign secretary and most recently justice secretary, but which were submitted as formal grievances only last autumn.
Last night Mr Raab warned that the ‘tyranny of subjective hurt feelings’ could stop ministers from driving civil servants to deliver the change that the public expect.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has now resigned from his position
Here the Mail explains how the case against him began behind the scenes and unfolded in public before coming to a dramatic conclusion yesterday morning.
Complaint from people who had never met him
Astonishingly, the first grumblings about Mr Raab’s conduct included complaints by people who had never even met him.
Yesterday’s report by Mr Tolley revealed that the initial complaint was ‘signed collectively’ by a group of junior policy officials in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). There had been ‘discussions within an informal network’ of civil servants and their true number is not known, although nine identified themselves during the process.
‘Only some of those individuals had any direct experience of the DPM [deputy prime minister]; some had never met him at all but were seeking to support their colleagues,’ Mr Tolley revealed.
The complaint was ‘submitted internally’ in March 2022 but didn’t reach the ‘threshold for escalation’, meaning Mr Raab was not even told about it.
MoJ official claims she warned him three times
Although Mr Raab was not told about the initial complaint against him, the most senior civil servant in the MoJ insisted she did warn him about how he treated staff three times – which he disputes.
Former allies: Dominic Raab with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the Commons
Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo told the inquiry that on March 9, July 14 and October 27 last year she had ‘drawn to his attention concerns about his tone and behaviour in interactions with civil servants’.
She produced notes, and although Mr Raab ‘sought to challenge the reliability’ of them, Mr Tolley said he was ‘not convinced by those challenges’.
Ms Romeo said she told Mr Raab there ‘had been complaints about his behaviour’ and told him to raise his concerns about staff performance with her rather than addressing them directly with the civil servants in question.
‘He set unreasonable work deadlines’
Much of the initial MoJ complaint was reported by the media in November, which led directly to the further allegations being made about Mr Raab’s previous ministerial roles.
That same month, on November 15, the first MoJ complaint was resubmitted ‘on the express basis that it should be treated as a formal complaint’. Mr Tolley dismissed much of it, saying it was drafted by committee, referred to other ministers and used the language of a ‘perverse culture of fear’ without explaining what was meant.
It also made unsubstantiated allegations ‘about unreasonable work deadlines’.
However, Mr Tolley gave the junior staff ‘credit for their courage in coming forward’ and said it ‘paved the way’ for the other complaints.
Now the Foreign Office chimes in
On the same day as the initial MoJ complaint was sent in, a separate formal complaint was made relating to Mr Raab’s time as foreign secretary, from July 2019 until September 2021, when he was ousted by Boris Johnson amid criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan crisis.
The dispute had never been made public at the time nor had a complaint been lodged.
Mr Tolley said he could not provide details because of confidentiality reasons, but Mr Raab filled in the blanks in a lengthy response to the report he wrote for The Daily Telegraph. He said it stemmed from a tense period of negotiations between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar when there was a risk of a no-deal Brexit.
He claimed to have found out that an unnamed senior negotiator had ‘put UK sovereignty at risk’, prompting him to move the official away from the project in order to secure a deal with Spain.
It was not a demotion, nor was it to the long-term detriment of the official. But Mr Tolley concluded, in one of the two complaints he upheld, that the then-foreign secretary committed an ‘abuse or misuse of power’.
Raab giving evidence to the Justice and Home Affairs Committee at the House of Lords on the sublect of the work of the Ministry of Justice
He found Mr Raab to have ‘acted in a way which was intimidating’ during a work meeting, and said he was ‘unreasonably and persistently aggressive’.
In addition, he said he ‘introduced an unwarranted punitive element’, behaved in a way that made the unidentified colleague feel humiliated or undermined – and would have been aware of the impact his behaviour had.
A source said a UK negotiator had stepped out of line by promising that Spanish officials could be stationed on the Rock to enforce EU checks, ‘which had very big implications for sovereignty’.
One official said it was ‘astonishing’ that the episode was the subject of a complaint, adding: ‘It was not an issue at the time. No one thought Dom was out of line.’
He is ‘excessively demanding’…
On November 16 last year, Mr Raab wrote a public letter to the Prime Minister asking for an independent investigation into the claims against him and insisted he had ‘never tolerated bullying’.
Days later a third complaint was made about Mr Raab’s brief time in charge at the Department for Exiting the EU (DExEU), when he replaced David Davis in July 2018 before resigning in protest at Theresa May’s draft agreement with the EU that November.
According to the report he felt some officials were being ‘deliberately unhelpful’ during what was an ‘intense and politically fraught’ time for the Government.
Consequently, it was likely that the ‘demanding, driven’ and detail-focused Mr Raab would have expressed his frustration on occasion, the report said.
Mr Tolley acknowledged that some staff may have found Mr Raab to be ‘excessively demanding’ to the point of intimidation.
But he said he did not find evidence that Mr Raab’s behaviour had been intimidating – nor did he intend to upset anyone or cause any harm. For his part, Mr Raab described as ‘vague, undated and unsubstantiated’ the claims made against him while at DExEU.
‘… and he’s too critical about our work’
Over the next few weeks, five more formal complaints were made about Mr Raab’s conduct during his two stints as justice secretary. These included submissions by senior policy officials and private office officials, unlike the first batch.
Although it was likely there had been discussion between the civil servants beforehand, Mr Tolley said he did not believe they had tried to ‘tailor their evidence’ to fit together.
The officials accused Mr Raab of being intimidating and being overly critical or insulting about the quality of their work. In response, he said he took the view that officials should be able to answer his questions in meetings.
But Mr Tolley found that he had called a team obstructive and believed there was ‘cultural resistance’ to his reforms, including a crucial overhaul of the parole system. He also concluded, although Mr Raab disagreed, that the justice secretary had described some work as ‘utterly useless’ and ‘woeful’.
And he said that his habit of ‘explicit unconstructive criticism and frequent interrupting’ may have the effect of seeming intimidating or insulting, even if not intended that way.
The complainants said they had been left suffering stress and anxiety and forced to take time off, but Mr Tolley said Mr Raab could not have known this.
Raab leaves his home in Esher, Surrey, after resigning from his cabinet positions
He concluded that his conduct was ‘abrasive’ but not ‘abusive’.
In general, however, he acknowledged that Mr Raab is ‘highly intelligent, pays close attention to detail and seeks to make decisions based on evidence’, working from 7.30am until 10pm most days.
The report also rejected claims that he used threatening gestures such as indicating people should be quiet or banging the table, nor did he shout or swear.
A valid complaint about timing
Mr Raab took exception to a number of elements of the inquiry carried out by lawyer Mr Tolley, and to the complaints themselves.
He said it was unfair to add the additional MoJ complaints to the terms of reference, and that many of the allegations against him were ‘surprisingly non-specific’ and so difficult for him to respond to.
Although Mr Tolley dismissed these objections, he said Mr Raab had a ‘well-founded’ complaint about the timing of the case.
The Brexit allegation in particular referred to events some four years earlier and there were no documents about it.
Mr Raab noted that the typical time limit for an employment tribunal claim is just three months.
And he pointed out that none of the complaints was raised with him at the time.
Despite his objections, Mr Raab ‘engaged seriously and conscientiously with the investigation process’ and spent two-and-a-half days, in four separate interviews, being grilled by Mr Tolley.
PM gets the report… and Raab gets the boot
The 48-page report was finally handed to Downing Street on Thursday morning and Mr Raab read it the same day, although he did not speak to the Prime Minister about it.
Just before 10am yesterday, Mr Raab posted on social media a letter to the PM announcing his resignation as deputy prime minister and justice secretary, and within a couple of hours had also written a lengthy piece for the Telegraph letting rip at the ‘Kafkaesque saga’ that led to his departure.
He revealed far more details than Mr Tolley had about the incidents involved in the report, and although he insisted he respected the outcome, he branded it flawed and dangerous.