Dominic Raab was “known as a bully” at the Ministry of Justice and made a habit of “intimidating and belittling” civil servants, a former senior official has told CSW.
Raab, who was reappointed as justice secretary in October, recently told an MoJ all-staff meeting that he had a zero tolerance attitude towards bullying – a statement which, CSW understands, led some officials to feel like the minister was “gaslighting” them.
More than one civil servant who has worked with Raab has said he “created a culture of fear”, and another Whitehall source said: “Far too many anecdotes about Raab end with him literally shaking with rage at an official.”
Prime minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that he did not recognise the “characterisation” of Raab as a bully, despite a slew of allegations that have emerged in recent days about his behaviour.
CSW spoke to multiple sources who corroborated claims of Raab bullying and berating staff. They all agreed Raab had created a culture of fear in the department, where he spent a year as justice secretary until Liz Truss’s September reshuffle, which saw him out of the role for seven weeks until Rishi Sunak brought him back.
The ex-senior official said Raab’s behaviour did not appear to be “targeted” at specific people or groups. “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,’” the official said.
They said they and others had “spent all of our time managing” the secretary of state and trying to insulate more junior civil servants from him.
They said the justice secretary would frequently interrupt civil servants during briefings and berate them.
“We just didn't trust that he wasn't going to cut you off after half a sentence and say, ‘I don't want to hear that, I don't want to listen to you,’ which I would never want any of my staff being subjected to.
“Or [he might] ask you for some entirely spurious bits of data, which you felt was asked just to test you – and then he would just keep on asking in front of everyone,” they said.
“He’d say things like, ‘Oh, come on. Why don't you know it?’ And he’d bang the table and say ‘Guys, it's ridiculous, you don't know basic data’”.
Raab's spokesperson said the justice secretary has always had a zero-tolerance attitude to bullying and does not recognise the characterisation sources described to CSW of his behaviour, or of the environment in any of the departments he has worked in.
While Raab expects officials to have a good understanding of their subject areas and will ask questions about important data points, he does not berate anyone or hit desks, they said. They also denied that he had shaken with rage or used the phrases attributed to him by the senior official.
The official said they were concerned about “what that culture of fear does to the quality of advice and therefore how the country is served”.
“It's shit for the civil servants, but this overall culture is even shitter for the country,” they said.
“The expectations he set – he would characterise them, I suspect, as driving delivery. Actually, they were just beyond realistic and you couldn't challenge them.”
Raab’s “reputation” also hindered recruitment for a principal private secretary, according to the official. “Nobody would apply... nobody wants to work for him,” they said.
Two sources said Raab had removed his first PPS from the role because he felt they were too junior. CSW understands the PPS was offered the chance to stay on as a deputy to their replacement, but chose instead to move to another team within the department. Raab then demanded a director be appointed instead, despite the fact that principal private secretaries are normally deputy-director level, because he believed it would strengthen the private office. The same job was advertised this September – during Raab's brief absence from the MoJ – as a deputy-director post. Recruitment is now open again for a PPS at director level.
The claims are the latest in a series of allegations about Raab’s conduct. Around 15 officials in his private office who had described being traumatised by his behaviour are said to have been offered “respite or a route out” of the department when he returned, according to the Guardian.
CSW understands his private office staff – including those who have left – have been offered trauma-informed resilience coaching. The cabinet minister's spokesperson noted that all civil servants have access to mental-health and other wellbeing support, and said Raab had bolstered the support on offer following the Covid pandemic.
The Mirror reported last week that the deputy PM had been nicknamed “the incinerator” because he “burns through” staff so quickly; and the Sun alleged that Raab had thrown tomatoes across the room during a “tirade” in June.
Former FCO permanent secretary Simon McDonald told LBC on Monday that Raab had been a “tough boss” in his previous post as foreign secretary, and that he considered it plausible that the minister could bully staff.
The news follows the resignation of Raab’s former cabinet colleague Sir Gavin Williamson, who is alleged to have bullied staff at the Ministry of Defence. The former defence secretary reportedly told a civil servant to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window”. Williamson has denied all claims of bullying, but has not explicitly denied using those phrases.
The senior official CSW spoke to said they had never heard Raab use offensive phrases similar to those Williamson has been quoted as saying.
Instead, Raab was “more systematic, intimidating and belittling those he came into contact with”, they said.
“He was known as a bully in the department,” they added.
“It was more insidious because there was nothing you could ever [report to the perm sec] that was equivalent to ‘He just told me to slit my throat’. It was just sort of, ‘Well, it's just Dom, isn't it? And he's just a bit like that.’”
The official said Raab’s behaviour had made their working life extremely difficult, despite considering themselves “fairly resilient and hardened” after having worked for several secretaries of state.
“I remember coming out of a meeting and feeling utterly shaken,” they said.
At other times, the justice secretary would be “absolutely charming, so you weren't ever sure who you were going to get”.
“Although mostly you knew,” they added.
A spokesperson for Dominic Raab 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.”
The MoJ directed CSW to Raab’s spokesperson and declined to comment further.