Deputy Prime Minister ‘left junior staff scared to enter office’ while foreign secretary
Dominic Raab was so demeaning and abrasive to junior colleagues that many were “scared” to enter his office, the top civil servant under the then-foreign secretary has alleged.
Lord McDonald said he raised his concerns to Cabinet Office investigators at the time, and urged Rishi Sunak to “have another look” at bullying complaints procedures.
Despite the warnings, the Prime Minister was standing by Mr Raab on Tuesday after making him his deputy and Justice Secretary when he entered No 10.
Mr Sunak continued to insist he is not aware of “any formal complaint” about Mr Raab’s behaviour and urged anyone with concerns to come forward.
Lord McDonald, who was the Foreign Office’s permanent secretary when Mr Raab led the department, said the minister “couldn’t be made to see” the impact he was having on staff.
“Colleagues did not complain to me formally, it was kind of their professional pride to cope, but many were scared to go into his office,” the crossbench peer told Times Radio.
“His sort of defence was that he treated everybody in the building in the same way. He was as abrasive and controlling with junior ministers and senior officials as he was with his private secretaries.”
Mr Sunak has insisted he is “not aware of any formal complaints” about Mr Raab as he rejected the “characterisation” of his deputy that has emerged in a series of reports.
Lord McDonald confirmed he raised the minister’s behaviour with the Cabinet Office’s proprietary and ethics team at the time, with Mr Raab serving as foreign secretary from 2019 to 2021.
“It was language, it was tone, he could be very curt with people and he did this in front of a lot of other people. I think people felt demeaned,” the former official said.
“And I tried to have that conversation with him, I had several conversations with him. But it wouldn’t surprise me today if he said ‘I don’t recognise that’, because I felt at the time that my message wasn’t landing.”
Mr Sunak, speaking to ITV in Bali, where he is attending the G20 summit, continued to stand by Mr Raab.
“I’m not and have not been aware of any formal complaint about Dominic’s behaviour,” the PM said.
“Of course there are established processes in place for people to raise concerns in all workplaces – private, public (sector).
“If people have concerns they should raise them because unless people raise them, it’s hard for people to actually then look into them and make any changes that are necessary.
“So I would urge people to do that. Those processes are confidential and it’s right that they are used.”
Among the allegations Mr Raab is facing is that staff were offered a “route out” of his department when he was reinstated as Justice Secretary in October.
Mr Raab’s spokesman 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.”
Dave Penman, head of the FDA union representing senior civil servants, called on Mr Sunak to reform the complaints system to help address a “toxic work culture” in Whitehall.
In a letter, Mr Penman urged the Prime Minister to appoint a new independent adviser on ministers’ interests.
The post has been vacant since Lord Geidt quit in June.
“As we have seen over the last few weeks, there is increasing scrutiny over the conduct of ministers and, in particular, accusations of bullying, behaviour that has no place in a modern workplace,” it said.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner demanded an independent investigation into Mr Raab.
“Rishi Sunak clearly knew about Dominic Raab’s reputation when he reappointed him to his Cabinet,” she said.
The Prime Minister told reporters travelling with him to Indonesia for the G20 summit: “I don’t recognise that characterisation of Dominic and I’m not aware of any formal complaints about him.
“Of course there are established procedures for civil servants if they want to bring to light any issues.
“I’m not aware of any formal complaint about Dominic.”
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