Dominic Raab's claim he was targeted by civil servant activists 'absurd'

ITV News' Anushka Asthana and Libby Wiener report on Dominic Raab's resignation

Former government staff members have rubbished ex-Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab's accusation that Civil Service “activists” were working against him.

Lord McDonald, who was permanent secretary of the Foreign Office for five years, said there was no Civil Service “agenda” and the “minister’s behaviour” was the issue.

Mr Raab resigned on Friday as deputy prime minister and justice secretary after an investigation into bullying complaints found he acted in an intimidating and aggressive way with officials, displaying behaviour that could have amounted to bullying.

After announcing his decision to quit, the senior Conservative lashed out at what he called “activist civil servants” who were able to “block reforms or changes through a rather passive-aggressive approach” when dealing with ministers.

Lord McDonald, who gave evidence to Adam Tolley KC's bullying investigation to provide background context for complaints against Mr Raab, said he "saw no evidence" of what he was alleging.

The peer told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday: "I disagree strongly with Mr Raab. I think all the civil servants I saw working for Dominic Raab worked very hard for him in the way they are required to do.

"There is no Civil Service activism, there is no Civil Service passive aggression, there is no separate Civil Service agenda.

"I saw no evidence of a small group of activists trying to undermine a minister. The issue is a minister's behaviour."

Dominic Raab's resignation letter in full

The response from both Mr Sunak and Mr Raab to the report into bullying accusations has also has made future civil service complaints more difficult, according to a think tank chief.

Hannah White, director of the Institute for government (IfG), said “no civil servant would feel encouraged to speak out in future” and called the episode a missed opportunity for the prime minister to reinforce standards.

Adam Tolley KC’s investigation concluded Mr Raab, while foreign secretary, engaged in an “abuse or misuse of power” that “undermines or humiliates” some staff members.

Mr Raab’s conduct in the department had a “significant adverse effect” on one colleague and he was also found to have been “intimidating” to staff by criticising “utterly useless” and “woeful” work while justice secretary.

Dominic Raab in his constituency hours after handing in his resignation to the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

Mr Tolley stopped short of judging Mr Raab's conduct as bullying, but his findings were consistent with what he said would amount to the offence under the ministerial code.

Mr Raab always vowed that he would resign if found guilty of bullying staff and, despite strongly refuting the findings of the report, tendered his resignation on Friday.

But Mr Raab didn't go quietly, and in the hours after his exit launched a tirade against “activist civil servants”. He argued they had the ability to stand in the way of a minister’s democratic mandate by making complaints about those charged with implementing changes.

Mr Raab said the inquiry has “set a dangerous precedent” by setting a “low” threshold for bullying, which he says will “encourage spurious complaints” in future.

Then-deputy prime minister Dominic Raab and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the Commons Credit: House of Commons/PA

But the IfG’s Ms White said the reaction to the investigation may discourage future complaints rather than embolden civil servants.

Meanwhile, the former head of the civil service said Mr Raab’s claim of being targeted by “activist civil servants” was “absurd”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, Lord Kerslake added: “I think it’s completely inaccurate, and I think it’s just one more line of attack to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.”

Lord Kerslake said Mr Raab’s resignation letter was “pretty graceless” and “in some instances malevolent”.

“He seems to lash out at everybody but doesn’t accept personal responsibility for any of his own behaviour, and I think the issue here he’s trying to turn it into – some kind of constitutional question of good government – simply doesn’t stand up,” he said.

Lord Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, called Mr Raab’s claim ‘absurd’ Credit: Victoria Jones/PA

“An opportunity to reinforce standards has been missed, the mutual suspicion which has been growing between ministers and civil servants remains and nothing has been done to reduce the risk of future problems.”

Elsewhere, Conservative peer Lord Marland said Mr Raab had been the victim of a “witch hunt”.

“I think this is a very black day for all employers actually, because a dangerous precedent has been set,” he told Newsnight.

“There was no definition of bullying, now there is a definition that has been made which will make this a landmark finding. And it will send a shudder through all employers in the country – not least ministers.”

The investigation is described as 'an wholly inadequate process' by the head of the union for civil servants, Dave Penman

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA — a union representing senior civil servants, including some of the complainants against Mr Raab — called for an independent inquiry into ministerial bullying and a change to how complaints are handled following the investigation.

No 10 has vowed to learn the lessons in terms of dealing with concerns about working practices in a “timely manner” but has so far refused to undertake a shake-up of the internal government complaints process.

Senior Tories spoke out after the publication of the 47-page investigation on Friday to argue Mr Raab should not have stood down and to criticise the tone of the complaints.

Former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Raab should not have quit and that Mr Sunak should have refused to accept his deputy’s departure.

Mr Rees-Mogg told Channel 4 News: “I think his resignation was unnecessary and I think the Prime Minister should not have accepted it.

“I think it is very dangerous that we are setting the bar so low for this.”

Government whip Joy Morrissey tweeted that “we now live in a country where the definition of bullying includes telling someone to do their job”.

Mr Sunak filled the gap left in his Cabinet by Mr Raab’s departure by promoting two longstanding allies, with Alex Chalk becoming Justice Secretary and Oliver Dowden appointed as Deputy Prime Minister.

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