The investigation into claims former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab bullied staff has led to a “complete breakdown” in trust between ministers and civil servants, a thinktank has said.
Alex Thomas, programme director at the Institute for Government, said the inquiry has exposed “deep flaws” in the process for handling poor ministerial behaviour and that raising a complaint is still seen as “a sure-fire way to end a civil service career”.
Mr Raab, who had been a close ally of Mr Sunak, resigned as deputy prime minister and justice secretary on Friday after a report upheld two out of eight bullying complaints against him.
In the aftermath of his resignation, Mr Raab launched a tirade against “activist civil servants” who he argued had the ability to stand in the way of minister’s democratic mandate by making complaints about ministers charged with implementing changes.
He added the inquiry had set a “dangerous precedent” by setting a “low” threshold for bullying, which he said will “encourage spurious complaints”.
‘A systemic problem’
Reacting to the report published by independent investigator Adam Tolley KC, Mr Thomas said: “(The) system can only function if there is a high level of trust between politicians and the officials who serve them.
“The Raab mess has meant a complete breakdown, with leaks and acrimony amongst all parties, ending a ministerial career and leaving officials disillusioned and in some cases traumatised.”
Criticising the complaints process, he added: “The truth is that it is extremely difficult for junior private secretaries and others to register formal concerns. The strong career incentive is not to make a fuss, to show maximum resilience and to help smooth away behaviour problems rather than address the underlying issue.
“That is the reason it took a co-ordinated group of junior staff to make a complaint: not a conspiracy but a systemic problem.”
Sunak accepted Raab’s departure with ‘great sadness’
Mr Sunak had received Mr Tolley’s report on Thursday morning but had spent close to 24 hours deliberating over whether to sack his deputy before Mr Raab decided to walk.
In a letter to Mr Raab, the prime minister said he accepted the resignation with “great sadness”.
He also said there had been “shortcomings in the historic process that have negatively affected everyone involved”, adding: “We should learn from this how to better handle such matters in future.”
Raab was ‘intimidating’ to staff
Mr Raab’s conduct 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, the report said.
Though he stopped short of describing the conduct as bullying, Mr Tolley’s findings were consistent with what he said would amount to the offence under the ministerial code.
Bullying complaints described as ‘snowflakery’
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.
Number 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.
Meanwhile, several Tory MPS have spoken out against Mr Tolley’s findings.
Former minister Jacob Rees-Mogg described complaints against Mr Raab as “snowflakery” in an interview with GB News.
Junior whip Joy Morrissey tweeted: “Sadly, we now live in a country where the definition of bullying includes telling someone to do their job. Where the slightest upset or annoyance is indulged with endless reports and inquiries.
“Where whining, taking offence and narcissistic victimhood have become the defining characteristics of our times – as the uncomplaining and silent majority look on in disbelief.”