Rishi Sunak defends handling of Dominic Raab row amid calls for suspension of deputy PM

ITV News' Political Correspondent Harry Horton reports from Downing Street, where he asked Dominic Raab 'if he is going to step down' amid growing bulling allegations

On Wednesday, Mr Raab sat alongside Mr Sunak at Prime Minister’s Questions as allegations about his conduct were raised by Sir Keir Starmer.

The deputy prime minister shook his head and muttered as the Labour leader questioned why Mr Raab had been appointed to his role.

Eight formal allegations have been levelled against Mr Raab and are being investigated by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC.

ITV News understands at least 24 civil servants are involved in the claims, which focus on Mr Raab's time as secretary of state in the Foreign Office, Brexit department and now at the Ministry of Justice.

Sir Keir claimed Mr Sunak had ignored reports about the tax dispute involving the now-sacked Tory chairman Nadhim Zahawi when he appointed him and had done the same with the allegations around Mr Raab’s conduct.

"Is the prime minister… going to claim that he’s the only person completely unaware of serious allegations of bullying against the deputy prime minister before he appointed him?"

He highlighted reports suggesting "some of the complainants were physically sick, one says they were left suicidal".

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He asked Mr Sunak: "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?"

The prime minister said: "When I was made aware of formal complaints I appointed a leading independent KC to conduct an investigation, because I take action when these things happen."

He compared his actions to the Labour leader’s handling of the row over MP Rosie Duffield’s stance on trans issues, which led her to compare being in the party to an "abusive relationship".

The questions over Mr Sunak’s handling of Mr Raab’s position came after Downing Street would not be drawn on whether he was told about informal complaints made about the justice secretary during his ministerial career.

Meanwhile, Oliver Dowden, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, was questioned when he appeared on ITV's Peston on Wednesday night.

When asked if he agreed with fellow Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg that the bullying allegations against Mr Raab had been overblown, he said: "No, I think if a formal complaint is made it is something that should be taken seriously, and that's exactly what's happened in these circumstances.

"I would say though that it is important and the public would expect ministers to drive officials hard to get results for them.

"But that should not extend to bullying, and that's why it's appropriate that there's an investigation into that," he added.

Dave Penman, leader of the FDA union, which represents senior officials, said Mr Raab should be suspended to protect other members of staff while the investigation is conducted.

"Dominic Raab is now facing investigations around eight separate complaints involving what we understand is dozens of civil servants in three separate government departments over a period of four years," he said.

"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 the investigation took place."

Former Foreign Office mandarin Lord Simon McDonald, Antonia Romeo, the current permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and Philip Rycroft, who ran the Brexit department while Mr Raab was there, are thought to have given evidence as witnesses to the inquiry.

Mr Raab has previously said he is "confident" he has "behaved professionally" throughout his time in government, insisting Whitehall has a "zero-tolerance approach to bullying".

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "The investigation by Adam Tolley KC is ongoing so it would be inappropriate to comment further whilst that process takes place."

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