Rishi Sunak is facing further questions over his judgment as allegations emerged that his deputy Dominic Raab behaved "aggressively" towards staff during his previous stint as justice secretary.
Senior civil servants were offered a “route out” of Mr Raab’s department when he was reinstated to the role in October amid concerns they had been distressed by his past behaviour, reports suggest.
Multiple sources have alleged the Cabinet minister created a “culture of fear” in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) during his previous stint there between September 2021 and September 2022, according to the Guardian.
The newspaper said it had been told Mr Raab acted in a “demeaning”, “rude” and “aggressive” manner, and that his behaviour went beyond “unprofessional”, with one source branding him a “bully”.
There are also claims that the deputy prime minister's behaviour towards private office staff during his stint as Brexit secretary in 2018 prompted a senior official to write down their concerns and share them, ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana reports.
Although people in the Cabinet Office were informed of the concerns, a Whitehall source told ITV News there was "no sign" that anything was done about it.
The source added that the alleged behaviour when Raab ran the Brexit department between July and November 2018 was "basically identical" to what is being suggested about the Ministry of Justice.
There were reportedly complaints about his behaviour when he was foreign secretary as well, a second source told ITV News.
Sources tell ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana that Dominic Raab is at the centre of a bullying row
Further accounts emerged on Friday evening, with The Mirror reporting the justice secretary has acquired the nickname “The Incinerator” because he “burns through” staff.
The Sun, meanwhile, suggested Mr Raab had once hurled tomatoes from a Pret salad across a room in a fit of anger – an allegation branded “rotten” by shadow minister David Lammy.
A spokesman for the Cabinet minister said the latter claim was “nonsense”.
Insiders insisted that the justice secretary does not engage in bullying of any kind, acknowledging he is “direct” but saying he rates his team highly.
They refuted any suggestion he does not behave in a professional manner, adding that they do not recognise the “Incinerator” nickname or the idea there has been a high turnover of staff.
One Conservative source told ITV News that Raab is a good boss and added that they have "never seen behaviour like this".
Some Tories have publicly come to his defence, with Helen Grant, the MP for Maidstone and The Weald, saying she witnessed a “very decent” minister with “high professional standards” when the pair came into contact during Mr Raab’s tenure as foreign secretary.
Ms Grant, who said she worked with Mr Raab last year in her capacity as the UK special envoy for girls’ global education, insisted the Esher and Walton MP had “zero tolerance for bullying”.
Fellow Conservative MP Eddie Hughes also said he had never seen Mr Raab be rude to anyone during his time in the housing or Brexit departments.
The Walsall North MP tweeted: “When I got my first job as his PPS I was told Dom was demanding. ‘He’s very hard working and expects others to be too’.
“I was delighted. I wanted to work for someone who took their role seriously. We got on great from the start. Never saw him be rude to anyone at MHCLG or DExEU.”
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said they have "no record of any formal complaints" - a claim which ITV News' sources echoed.
The allegations will prove troublesome for Mr Sunak, whose choice of Cabinet colleagues has already been called into question.
The prime minister came under fire for reappointing Sir Gavin Williamson to his senior team, who later quit amid bullying allegations.
He also faced criticism for reinstating Suella Braverman as home secretary just six days after she was forced to quit over a security breach.
The Guardian reported that around 15 staff from the justice secretary’s private office were taken into a room when he returned to his post, where it was acknowledged they may be worried about his conduct.
They were said to have been given the option to move roles, with some visibly emotional.
Several officials went on to switch positions within the department, with one thought to be weighing up leaving entirely, the newspaper said.
However it cited sources suggesting a couple have since returned.
Labour described the accusations as “deeply troubling”, arguing they raise “yet more questions” about Mr Sunak’s judgment.
The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the prime minister must “come clean” on whether he knew about the allegations when he reappointed Mr Raab to the MoJ, and called for the claims to be investigated “urgently and independently”.
“With each new scandal and grubby deal, it becomes more obvious that he is a weak leader, who puts party management before the national interest,” she said.
“He claimed zero tolerance for bullying, promised a government of integrity and pledged to urgently appoint an ethics adviser, yet is falling far short on every promise.
“Rishi Sunak is already showing he is not just failing to stop the rot but letting it fester.”
Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper claimed the Tory government does not have “a shred of integrity left”.
“These latest reports are deeply disturbing and must be investigated immediately by the Cabinet Office,” she said.
Mr Raab, who is also deputy prime minister, was removed from his MoJ post by Liz Truss on her elevation to No 10 in September.
He had held the Cabinet role since September 2021 and was reinstated by Mr Sunak last month.
It is understood no formal complaints have been made against the Cabinet minister.
A spokesman for Mr Raab said: “Dominic has high standards, works hard, and expects a lot from his team as well as himself.
“He has worked well with officials to drive the government’s agenda across Whitehall in multiple government departments and always acts with the utmost professionalism.”
A MoJ spokeswoman 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.”
Mr Raab’s comeback as justice secretary was previously branded “concerning” by opponents who criticised his record on barrister strikes and court backlogs.
He refused to meet the Criminal Bar Association for talks during the industrial action, leaving it for his successor Brandon Lewis to resolve – which he succeeded in doing within weeks of taking office.
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