Sunak to appoint 'independent investigator' to look into Raab complaints

No.10 won't commit to timeframe for probe into two complaints made public after CSW reported officials said Raab had created a “culture of fear”
Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Live News

Rishi Sunak will appoint an "independent investigator" to look into two complaints against Dominic Raab, which were made after a series of allegations that he had bullied staff came to light.

The justice secretary wrote to the prime minister requesting the investigation this morning after he was notified of two formal complaints – one from his last stint in the same job, and another from his time as foreign secretary before that.

A search has begun to find a person with the “requisite experience", who will establish the facts of the allegations and report back to the PM in the absence of an independent adviser on ministers' interests, a No.10 spokesperson said.

The spokesperson declined to say whether the investigation will start by Christmas, saying:“I’m not going to put a date on it”.

Raab shared his letter to Sunak on Twitter this morning, hours after CSW reported that multiple sources had said Raab had created a “culture of fear” at the Ministry of Justice.

One former senior official said Raab was “known as a bully” at the department and made a habit of “intimidating and belittling” civil servants – and 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.

Raab’s letter said he had “just been notified” of the two complaints.

“I am, therefore, writing to request that you commission an independent investigation into the claims as soon as possible.

“I will cooperate fully and respect whatever outcome you decide. I remain committed to serving this government with integrity and professionalism as deputy prime minister, justice secretary and lord chancellor and welcome the opportunity to address any complaints transparently.”

Sunak said yesterday he was not aware of “any formal complaints about Dominic’s behaviour” and encouraged anyone with concerns to come forward. Earlier this week, he said there were “established procedures for civil servants if they want to bring to light any issues".  

Sunak is yet to appoint an independent adviser on ministers' interests – the official who is responsible for investigating alleged breaches of the ministerial code – which led to him needing to appoint an independent investigator to look into the Raab allegations.

There have been a number of calls to overhaul the complaints system, which is not independent as investigations cannot happen without the prime minister’s sign-off and disciplinary action is at the PM’s discretion.

There is therefore no obligation for Sunak to agree with or act on the investigator's findings. “The prime minister is the ultimate arbiter of the ministerial code," the No.10 spokesperson said today.

Raab’s letter read: “I have never tolerated bullying and always sought to reinforce and empower the teams of civil servants working in my respective departments.”

Raab made similar comments at an all-staff meeting when he returned to the MoJ as justice secretary last month, saying he had a zero tolerance attitude towards bullying. Some officials felt the minister was “gaslighting” them by saying this, sources told CSW

Raab said that having worked as a minister in four departments, he had brought “as much energy, professionalism and determination to the task at hand as I could muster”.

“I have always welcomed the mutual challenge that comes with serious policymaking and public service delivery. I have always sought to set high standards, and forge teams that can deliver for the British people amidst the acute challenges that we have faced in recent years,” he wrote.

He added: “I have been blessed to work with a wide range of outstanding civil servants, in particular my brilliant and dedicated private offices.”

The Guardian reported at the weekend that 15 civil servants in Raab’s private office at the MoJ who had described being traumatised by his behaviour had been offered “respite or a route out” of the department when he returned. 

And CSW understands his private office staff, including some who have left, have been offered trauma-informed resilience coaching.

The claims are among a number of allegations that have been made about Raab’s conduct in the last week. The Mirror reported that he had been nicknamed “the incinerator” because he “burns through” staff so quickly; and the Sun alleged that the justice secretary had thrown tomatoes across the room during a “tirade” at officials this summer.

Former Foreign Office permanent secretary Simon McDonald told LBC 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.

'How will the PM define an independent investigation?'

Responding to the justice secretary’s call for an investigation, Dave Penman, head of the FDA civil service union, tweeted: “How exactly will the PM be defining an independent investigation with no independent adviser on ministers' interests to conduct an investigation?”

Complaints about alleged breaches of the ministerial code would usually be investigated by the independent adviser, but the post has been vacant since Christopher Geidt resigned in June.

The complaints process is not fully independent as even when there is one in place, the ethics adviser requires the prime minister’s go-ahead to investigate a complaint.

This week, the FDA called for a complete overhaul of the complaints system, saying civil servants have “little confidence” in the existing arrangements “given the experience of the last few years”.

In a letter to the prime minister on Monday, Penman wrote: "The result is a toxic work culture that will impact on the ability to deliver good government for the public, blight the careers and lives of those that suffer from bullying or harassment and ultimately cast a shadow over the entire government.”

As well as signing off on investigations, it is also up to the prime minister to decide what action – if any – to take if a minister is found to have breached the code.

When an investigation found Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code by bullying staff in 2020, then-prime minister Boris Johnson rejected the ethics adviser’s findings and said he had “full confidence” in the then-home secretary – leading the adviser, Sir Alex Allan, to resign.

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