Bullying report finds Raab acted in ‘intimidating manner’ as justice secretary

Echoes of Patel inquiry findings as lawyer Adam Tolley says justice secretary's behaviour was “abrasive” but not intentionally “abusive”
Dominic Raab outside No.10. Photo: Ian Davidson/Alamy

By Zoe Crowther

21 Apr 2023

The inquiry into civil servants’ allegations of bullying made against Dominic Raab found cases where the cabinet minister acted in an "intimidating manner", but concludes he did “not intend” to upset or humiliate staff.

The former justice secretary and deputy prime minister resigned from cabinet this morning following the investigation’s findings.

Lawyer Adam Tolley KC was commissioned to investigate Raab’s conduct last November after eight formal complaints were made about his interactions with civil servants, dating back to his time as foreign secretary and Brexit secretary.

The report found three instances since September 2021 where Raab’s feedback to senior civil servants was overly critical – particularly during his time as justice secretary, including that one  submission on parole reform was “utterly useless” and “woeful”.

Raab has denied that he made these particular comments.

Tolley wrote: “Overall, I conclude that the DPM’s conduct during the MoJ period was on some occasions ‘abrasive’, in the sense of a personal style which is and feels intimidating or insulting to the individual, but is not intended to be so.

“His conduct was not, however, ‘abusive’, in the sense of behaviour which is intended and specifically targeted.”

Tolley’s observation is similar to that made on the behaviour of former home secretary Priti Patel by then-independent adviser on ministers interests Sir Alex Allan in 2020.

In a letter responding to Raab's resignation, prime minister Rishi Sunak said he accepted his resignation with "great sadness" but that ministers were required to uphold the highest of standards.

“You had rightly undertaken to resign if the report made any finding of bullying whatsoever," Sunak said.

“But it is clear that there have been shortcomings in the historic process that have negatively affected everyone involved.

"We should learn from this how to better handle such matters in future."

Relating to complaints from civil servants in the MoJ, Tolley said in the report that they “deserve credit” for coming forward.

“It cannot have been easy for them to do so and their motivation was to stand up for more senior colleagues whose experiences they had observed at one remove,” he wrote.

“Having interviewed almost all of the individuals closely involved, I find that they are sincere and committed civil servants, with no ulterior agenda.”

The report noted a significant shift in Raab's manner with staff following his call for an inquiry into the allegations.

"There was a broad consensus amongst interviewees that, whatever might have been said about the DPM’s conduct prior to the investigation, there was little or no valid ground for criticism of the DPM’s conduct once the investigation was announced," Tolley wrote.

"Some of the individuals concerned with the MoJ additional complaints acknowledged that if the DPM had behaved previously as he has more recently behaved, there would have been no valid grounds for complaint."

Other findings in the report included that the experience of civil servants working under Raab "involved a significant adverse impact on their health" and that his behaviour involved "an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates".

In his resignation letter, Raab said he believed that the findings of the report were "flawed", and that "in setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent".

"I am genuinely sorry for any unintended stress or offence that any officials felt, as a result of the pace, standards and challenge that I brought to the Ministry of Justice,” he said.

Raab warned Sunak that a “low threshold” for allegations of bullying would “encourage spurious complaints against ministers, and have a chilling effect on those driving change on behalf of your government – and ultimately the British people”.

One civil servant described the letter as Raab "gaslighting in his last gasps", while another called it "the world's most bullying resignation letter".

"I'm appalled by his suggestion that 'only two' incidents being upheld wasn't a big deal," one civil servant told Civil Service World.

Some allegations, including that Raab had asked too many questions, curtailed interventions in meetings, or that staff were intimidated or offended by his body language, were dismissed by Tolley.

The report outlined that any questions related to the ministerial code were a matter for the prime minister.

Zoe Crowther is a social media journalist at CSW's sister title Politics Home, where a version of this story first appeared

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