Raab 'threatened' officials with civil service code, inquiry finds

FCDO perm sec says he warned Raab against references to code, which investigator says amounted to "threat of unspecified disciplinary action”
Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

Dominic Raab "intimidated" staff by referring to the civil service code in a way that he should have known could be seen as a "threat", according to the report into complaints against the former justice secretary.

The report refers to a meeting when Raab, who resigned this morning as justice secretary over its findings, referred to the code “in a way which could reasonably have been understood” to suggest that certain officials had breached it by failing to carry out their work to a satisfactory standard. The event took place at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office when Raab was foreign secretary and was considered alongside a formal complaint submitted by FCDO officials.

The incident was one of several examples of "intimidating behaviour" referred to in the report. Investigator Adam Tolley KC said referring to the code in this way conveyed “a threat of unspecified disciplinary action”, since breaching the code would also mean the officials had breached their contracts of employment. 

He said Raab’s comments had a “significant adverse effect on a particular individual… who took it seriously”.

“He did not target any individual, nor intend to threaten anyone with disciplinary action. However, he ought to have realised that referring in this way to the civil service code could have been understood as such a threat,” Tolley wrote.

Permanent secretary Sir Philip Barton told the investigator that he had warned Raab against making such threats “in a private and informal meeting”. The meeting was not recorded. 

Raab has denied that any such conversation took place, according to the report. He suggested that Barton had made the claim because he was “under pressure to explain what he had done in respect of the allegations” amidst widespread media reporting about the bullying allegations, Tolley said.

However, Tolley said he was inclined to believe Barton’s account, since the perm sec “had no reason to make up such a conversation with a view to protecting himself”, the FCDO complaint was not public, and Barton was not acting as Raab’s manager or employer.

“Sir Philip’s evidence was convincing and I do not think that he had any good reason to make up such a conversation with a view to protecting himself after the event,” Tolley wrote.

Tolley also noted that none of the details of the FCDO complaint had been reported in the media and “there would therefore have been no reason for Sir Philip to react defensively”.

The investigator noted that Barton had not told Raab his behaviour constituted “bullying”.

Tolley said the incident was “closely related” to events recounted in the FCDO complaint in which Raab had made a “legitimate management choice” but carried it out in a way that was “intimidating, in the sense of unreasonably and persistently aggressive in the context of a workplace meeting”.

“His conduct also involved an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates. In particular, he went beyond what was reasonably necessary in order to give effect to his decision and introduced a punitive element,” Tolley said.

“His conduct was bound to be experienced as undermining or humiliating by the affected individual, and it was so experienced. I infer that the DPM must have been aware of this effect; at the very least, he ought reasonably to have been so aware.”

MoJ perm sec 'raised concerns'

As well as disputing Barton’s evidence to the inquiry, Raab has also denied the MoJ permanent secretary Antonia Romeo's claim that she warned him about his behaviour.

Romeo told Tolley that she had raised “concerns about his tone and behaviour” towards civil servants with Raab on multiple occasions – giving specific dates in March, July and October 2022.

In the first two meetings, Romeo said she had told Raab that “if he had performance concerns about any particular official, he should not seek to address them in the context of a meeting but should rather address them to her”.

“Ms Romeo acknowledged that the DPM may be frustrated when the department did not deliver what he required, but said that if such an occasion arose, and she was not present, he should speak to her about it afterwards rather than express frustration to the officials in question,” the report said.

The third meeting related to the content of the first two.

Raab “sought to challenge the reliability of these notes on various grounds”, Tolley said, but said Romeo had supplied notes from the conversations to the inquiry.

“I was not convinced by those challenges and did not consider that Ms Romeo would have had any reason to manufacture or manipulate the content of these notes,” he said.

Tolley said he inferred from Romeo’s evidence and Raab’s denial that the conversations took place that “he did not accept that there was any legitimate basis for such regulation of his behaviour”.

Barton and Romeo were the only two civil servants named in the report. Tolley said it was “not necessary” to name other officials who had supplied evidence, and that he had sought to protect their confidentiality by omitting identifying details from the published report.

Read the most recent articles written by Beckie Smith - Former No.10 comms director takes senior Guardian role

Share this page