Dominic Raab in peril as No 10 refuses to say if Sunak knew of complaints

Downing Street won’t answer whether PM was aware of possible complaints about Raab’s alleged bullying before appointing him

Dominic Raab’s position is looking increasingly threatened after No 10 repeatedly refused to say whether Rishi Sunak knew of complaints about his behaviour before appointing him to the cabinet.

With the position of Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, firmly in the spotlight after Sunak’s dismissal of Nadhim Zahawi at the weekend, Keir Starmer used prime minister’s questions to ask why he was still in his post.

Speaking after the exchanges, Sunak’s press secretary refused to be drawn on whether No 10 was aware of possible complaints about Raab’s alleged bullying and abrasive behaviour before he was appointed to the government in October. “The prime minister was not aware of any formal complaints at the time of appointing Dominic Raab,” she said. “Following formal complaints being made, the prime minister asked for the facts to be established.”

Pressed a number of times about whether Sunak had been told about informal or other allegations about bullying or abusive behaviour by Raab before forming his government in October, the press secretary would only repeat that the prime minister was “not aware of any formal complaints at the time of the appointment”.

On Wednesday, the Times reported that officials had highlighted what were called “issues” with Raab in his previous ministerial roles before Sunak gave him his current job.

Previously, the Observer reported that concerns about Raab’s behaviour towards officials were raised during his time as Brexit secretary in 2018.

Raab is being investigated by Adam Tolley KC, an outside employment barrister appointed by Sunak after complaints about his conduct, now involving as many as 24 civil servants. The deputy prime minister denies any wrongdoing.

It has now emerged that among those to give evidence have been the top civil servants at all three of the departments Raab has led: the now defunct Brexit department, the Foreign Office, and the justice department.

The FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, said on Wednesday that the seriousness of the claims meant Raab should be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

Dave Penman, the union’s general secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If that was any other employee, if that was a permanent secretary in the civil service, they would in all likelihood be suspended from their job while that investigation took place.”

During PMQs, Starmer challenged Sunak to take action over Raab, asking: “How would he feel if one of his friends or relatives was being forced to work for a bully, simply because the man at the top was too weak to do anything about it?”

Again using PMQs to try to portray Sunak as ineffective, Starmer tackled him on the sacking of Zahawi for breaches of the ministerial code, and two separate issues linked to Boris Johnson, the former prime minister.

At one point, Starmer directly compared Sunak to Johnson: “He’s just like one of his predecessors, who treated questions about conduct as something to brush off, who thought that ducking responsibility was a perfectly reasonable response for a prime minister.

“In fairness, his predecessor didn’t go around pretending he was a paragon of integrity and accountability.”

Starmer also tackled the PM about what he knew before sacking Zahawi as Tory party chair and a cabinet minister on Sunday, after an investigation found he had broken the ministerial code by failing to declare an HMRC investigation into his tax affairs.

After Sunak referred the Labour leader to the report by his ethics adviser, Laurie Magnus, which led to Zahawi’s dismissal, Starmer pointed to a series of newspaper reports about the HMRC investigation in July, three months before Sunak made Zahawi a minister.

“Is he saying his officials hid this information from him, or was he just too incurious to ask any questions?” Starmer asked. “His defence is: nobody told me; I didn’t know; I didn’t ask any questions.”

Starmer ended by asking Sunak about the appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC chair after Sharp had allegedly helped Johnson acquire a £800,000 loan facility from another rich businessman, and the £200,000-plus bill to provide Johnson with legal support for the Commons inquiry into lockdown parties in No 10.

Starmer said: “The Tory party’s addiction to sleaze and scandal has done huge damage to this country, and the cost to the public keeps adding up. Surely even this prime minister could put his foot down, stand up to his old boss and tell him: he made the mess, he can pick up the bill.”


Peter Walker and Aletha Adu

The GuardianTramp

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