Sunak urges officials with concerns about Raab to come forward

PM says he is not aware of any formal complaints about deputy but refuses to say if he has been told of informal bullying claims

Rishi Sunak has urged officials who may have concerns about Dominic Raab’s behaviour to “come forward” and make a complaint after a top civil servant said Raab was so “demeaning and abrasive” to junior colleagues that many were “scared” to enter his office.

Speaking to broadcasters at the G20 summit in Bali, the prime minister continued to stand by his deputy, saying he “did not recognise” the characterisation of Raab as a bully but said civil servants should “avail themselves” of the formal complaints process if necessary.

He told the BBC: “I was not and I’m not aware of any formal complaints about Dominic’s behaviour. But I would say if people do have concerns, whether it’s about any individual, that they should come forward and talk to people about those.”

The Guardian understands that top officials at the Ministry of Justice, Raab’s current department, have now ruled that there should always be a senior civil servant in the room in meetings with him due to the recent allegations.

Sunak continued to refuse to answer questions about whether he had been informed of any informal complaints about the justice secretary’s alleged bullying across three government departments including the MoJ, the Brexit department and the Foreign Office before he reappointed him to his cabinet.

When asked in a separate interview with ITV News whether there should be an investigation into Raab’s behaviour given the number of allegations reported, Sunak indicated this could not happen unless witnesses came forward.

“There are established processes in place for people to raise concerns. In all workplaces – private, public – 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.”

The Guardian has reported that the former permanent secretary of the Foreign Office Simon McDonald warned Raab about the way he treated officials in his private office and then reported his concerns to the propriety and ethics team at the Cabinet Office.

Now a crossbench peer, McDonald has confirmed the report, telling Times Radio: “It was language, it was tone, he would be very curt with people. He did this in front of a lot of other people. I think people felt demeaned. I tried to have that conversation with him.” He also confirmed he had spoken informally to the Cabinet Office.

McDonald said Raab, who has denied the allegations, was not aware of the impact his behaviour was having on people. “When I worked for him, Dominic Raab was not aware of the impact of his behaviour on the people working for him, and couldn’t be made to see that impact. Colleagues did not complain to me formally. It was kind of their professional pride to cope,” he said.

“But many were scared to go into his office. His sort of defence was that he treated everyone 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.”

McDonald said he hoped Sunak would reform the system for dealing with allegations of bullying. “What we have at the moment is not fit for purpose. Action is only taken if there is a formal complaint and there is a feeling in the system that the system is stacked in favour of the minister or senior official. So people hesitate to make a formal complaint because of the effect on themselves.”


Dave Penman, the head of the FDA union representing senior civil servants, called on Sunak to reform the complaints system to help address a “toxic work culture” in Whitehall. In a letter, Penman urged the prime minister to appoint a new independent ethics adviser.

The post has been vacant for five months since Christopher Geidt quit in June amid concerns over Boris Johnson’s role in the Partygate scandal. Downing Street said the recruitment process was continuing “at pace”.

The Guardian has also reported that a senior official at the Department for Exiting the European Union handed a document to the Cabinet Office about alleged bullying of staff by Raab when he was Brexit secretary.

It is understood that Philip Rycroft, the former permanent secretary to the department, shared general concerns about Raab’s behaviour with the then cabinet secretary, Mark Sedwill, after they were raised with him by private office staff. Other reports suggest that Sedwill’s successor, Simon Case, was aware of Raab’s alleged behaviour at the MoJ.

A spokesperson for Raab said: “The deputy prime minister has worked in government for over seven years as a minister or secretary of state across four departments and enjoyed strong working relationships with officials across Whitehall. He consistently holds himself to the highest standards of professionalism and has never received nor been made aware of any formal complaint against him.”


Pippa Crerar Political editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
MoJ staff offered ‘route out’ amid concerns over Dominic Raab behaviour
Exclusive: Some civil servants may have still been traumatised by his previous stint there, sources say

Pippa Crerar Political editor

11, Nov, 2022 @5:53 PM

Article image
Sunak urged to ‘come clean’ on what he knew about Raab complaints
Head of FDA union criticises PM for ‘point blank’ refusing to say if he was aware of informal concerns

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

02, Feb, 2023 @9:38 AM

Article image
‘People are feeling jumpy’: civil servants feel the strain as Raab inquiry drags on
Inside Ministry of Justice patience with pace of investigation into allegations of bullying is wearing thin

Pippa Crerar Political editor

10, Feb, 2023 @2:14 PM

Article image
Sunak urged to consult ethics adviser over Raab bullying claims
Civil service union leader Dave Penman says PM should call on Sir Laurie Magnus to help him make decision on Raab

Rajeev Syal and Pippa Crerar

08, Feb, 2023 @2:51 PM

Article image
Dominic Raab facing ‘series’ of bullying claims from civil servants
Deputy PM’s former private secretaries reportedly preparing to submit formal complaints

Geneva Abdul

24, Nov, 2022 @8:57 AM

Article image
Rishi Sunak appoints lawyer to examine Dominic Raab bullying allegations
Adam Tolley KC will draw up report for PM, who will then decide whether Raab should face sanction

Pippa Crerar and Henry Dyer

23, Nov, 2022 @6:07 PM

Article image
Rishi Sunak says he does ‘not recognise’ bullying claims against Dominic Raab
PM says he is not aware of any formal complaints against deputy prime minister

Jessica Elgot in Bali and Pippa Crerar

14, Nov, 2022 @12:00 PM

Article image
Dominic Raab facing fresh suspension calls amid inquiry into bullying claims
Opposition parties say anyone in another workplace would be suspended during such an investigation

Aletha Adu

01, Feb, 2023 @10:34 AM

Article image
Raab facing more formal complaints over bullying allegations from MoJ staff
Exclusive: senior staff submit multiple complaints about deputy PM’s first stint at justice ministry

Pippa Crerar

22, Nov, 2022 @7:34 PM

Article image
Zahawi and Raab inquiries leave Sunak with his reputation on the line
There is private grumbling among Tory MPs over lack of decisive action as party struggles to maintain united front

Aubrey Allegretti Political correspondent

27, Jan, 2023 @4:52 PM