Dominic Raab is facing a further five formal complaints from Ministry of Justice civil servants over allegations of bullying behaviour during his previous stint running the department, No 10 has confirmed.
Downing Street announced that the justice secretary was under investigation for a total of eight separate incidents, with No 10 officials saying they want the independent inquiry concluded swiftly.
The deputy prime minister had vowed to “thoroughly rebut and refute” the three official complaints he was already facing, one from the MoJ and two from his time as foreign secretary and Brexit secretary.
The further formal allegations will come as a blow to Raab’s attempts to clear his name, and raise yet more questions about Rishi Sunak’s judgment in reappointing him to such a senior post.
Labour called for the cabinet minister to be suspended from his roles as deputy prime minister and justice secretary, which he first held between September 2021 and September 2022, while the eight formal complaints were investigated, amid concern that he had lost the confidence of his department.
The Guardian reported last month that senior MoJ civil servants were offered “respite or a route out” of the department when Raab was reappointed to the role in October, amid concerns that some were still traumatised by his behaviour during his previous stint there.
After the initial formal complaints, including a joint letter from junior MoJ staff who accused Raab of creating “a culture of fear” at the department, the Guardian also revealed that MoJ officials were planning to make further complaints about his alleged behaviour.
The fresh complaints are understood to be from senior civil servants with direct experience of alleged bullying and aggressive behaviour by the justice secretary when he was previously at the department. “They feel they need to stand shoulder to shoulder with more junior staff,” one source said.
Downing Street defended Raab remaining in post despite the growing number of allegations. The prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We think it’s right that there’s an independent process and the investigator looks into these claims thoroughly before coming to view.”
Sunak has appointed a top employment barrister, Adam Tolley KC, who has experience of handling whistleblower claims, to investigate the formal complaints about his deputy. He will report to the prime minister, who will then decide whether Raab should face sanction.
Giving evidence before parliament’s joint committee on human rights (JCHR) on Wednesday afternoon, Raab referred to the allegations made against him in the media, which include being rude and aggressive towards staff and demeaning them, as “tittle-tattle”.
Referencing the allegations, Joanna Cherry, the committee chair, asked Raab who would take the controversial British bill of rights forward if he was forced to leave office, given that it is his pet project.
Raab said he would not answer her “hypothetical” question but added: “I’ve been clear on the claims made with regard to myself. I believe I behaved professionally throughout. But of course I welcome – indeed I called for – an independent investigation so that I could deal with them transparently, not through the tittle-tattle that’s anonymously leaked to the media.”
An MoJ spokesperson said: “There is zero tolerance for bullying across the civil service. The deputy prime minister leads a professional department, driving forward major reforms, where civil servants are valued and the level of ambition is high.
“There is an independent investigation under way that is being overseen by the Cabinet Office and it would be inappropriate to comment further on issues relating to it until it is completed.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: “It is yet another sign of how weak Rishi Sunak is as a prime minister that despite being aware of Dominic Raab’s reputation, he appointed him as his deputy.
“The prime minister must now say why he has not been suspended until the outcome of the formal investigation, and make clear that any breach of the ministerial code will result in his immediate sacking.
“The government must also take immediate steps to ensure there is a safe working environment for their staff.”
Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “The trickle of allegations about Dominic Raab has turned into a flood, and his position is becoming increasingly untenable.
“Rishi Sunak must ask Raab to step down as justice secretary while these complaints are investigated, and confirm he won’t be reappointed if they are upheld. Anything less would make a mockery of Sunak’s claim that he would govern with integrity.”