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Foreign Office staff were terrified of contact with ‘bully’ Raab, official claims

Working there was like going to Pyongyang or Moscow, ‘a place where staff face significant risks’, ex-employee says

Jane Dalton
Friday 31 March 2023 18:46 BST
Mr Raab also allowed others in his circle to intimidate staff, it’s claimed
Mr Raab also allowed others in his circle to intimidate staff, it’s claimed (Getty Images)

Civil servants in the Foreign Office were terrified of having contact with “bully” Dominic Raab, a former official has claimed.

Staff were even scared of speaking to the close circle in the minister’s office, the ex-employee said. Some people allegedly described working in the office as like “going to Pyongyang or Moscow, a place where officials face significant risks”.

“I think you can have high expectations and not be a bully. I think he had high expectations and was a bully,” the former official, who asked to remain anonymous, told ITV News.

Mr Raab, who was foreign secretary from 2019 to 2021, is already under investigation over eight formal complaints about his behaviour as foreign secretary, Brexit secretary and during his first stint as justice secretary.

Senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC was appointed in November to lead the investigation into Mr Raab’s conduct.

Since allegations of bullying were made, Mr Raab has always denied wrongdoing and said he was just “setting high standards”. He has also insisted he acted with “professionalism and integrity”, having never tolerated bullying, and valued “excellent” relationships with civil servants.

But in an interview with ITV, the former Foreign Office official claimed that not only was Mr Raab a bully when he ran the department, but he also condoned similar behaviour by those around him.

Asked whether the cabinet minister was a bully, the former staff member said: “I know with 100 per cent certainty. People were terrified to have interactions with him but also to interact with his office.”

He said he witnessed the then-foreign secretary do “absolutely nothing” when a colleague was being bullied.

One of the most powerful men in the country was condoning it and saying that kind of behaviour was acceptable

Anonymous official

“He didn’t step in,” he added. Asked whether that meant Mr Raab was allowing it to happen he said: “A hundred per cent. One of the most powerful men in the country was condoning it and saying that kind of behaviour was acceptable.”

The ex-official also said Mr Raab placed “unreasonable pressure” on civil servants, getting them to submit work within “unreasonable timeframes” and would turn it away if it did not meet certain formatting standards.

Some staff also likened working in the office to “a hardship post”, like “going to Pyongyang or Moscow”, where there were significant risks. He argued it “really shouldn’t be like that”.

He said he had thought hard about whether it was fair to call Mr Raab a bully, but after looking up the definition of the term, he said: “I read it as someone that uses their influence to intimidate other people. And if that is the definition, then he was 100 per cent a bully.”

He said he was not surprised by the results of a survey last year that showed 40 per cent of those working in Mr Raab’s private office in late 2019 said they had been bullied or harassed, and 75 per cent said they had witnessed it.

When asked why he never complained, he referred to the inquiry into the former home secretary Priti Patel. Boris Johnson overruled the findings of the report on bullying allegations against her, which found she broke the ministerial code.

According to ITV, other people who have worked with Mr Raab include:

  • A former justice ministry official who said: “He was the most difficult minister I’ve ever had to work with. He saw the system as the enemy rather than as a team of people to be led and directed.”
  • Another former colleague, from a previous role held by Mr Raab, who argued that he turned the office into “a happy, productive place to a miserable hole”. They added: “Not all bullies scream - they are sarcastic, demeaning and controlling.”

Others denied Mr Raab was a bully, insisting he simply had high standards. One said he was kind, organising events for staff such as joke Christmas awards and a summer barbecue each year, branded the “Raab-ecue”.

Mr Raab pointed out to the programme that after complaints were made, he was the one to immediately request an independent inquiry.

The Independent also contacted his office to ask for a response but officials declined to comment directly.

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