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Dominic Raab ‘left junior staff scared to enter his office’, says official

Lord McDonald urges Rishi Sunak to ‘have another look’ at bullying complaints procedures

Kate Devlin,Jon Stone,Andrew Woodcock,Rob Merrick
Tuesday 15 November 2022 21:02 GMT
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Staff were scared to go into Dominic Raab's office, says former head of the Foreign Office

Staff working for Dominic Raab were “scared” to enter his office a former top civil servant has said, as Rishi Sunak called on anyone with concerns about bullying by the deputy prime minister to report them.

Lord McDonald described Mr Raab as “abrasive and controlling” and said that he had raised his behaviour within government at the time.

With questions growing over the prime minister’s decision to appoint Mr Raab to his cabinet, Mr Sunak said it was “hard” for allegations to be investigated unless people came forward.

Meanwhile, The Independent can reveal that the Foreign Office unlawfully tried to withhold information on Mr Raab’s complaints record the first time he worked for the department.

And Mr Raab, nicknamed “The Incinerator” for how he “burns” through employees, is recruiting new staff to run his private office.

The PM has repeatedly said that he does not recognise descriptions of Mr Raab as a bully.

But Lord McDonald, the Foreign Office’s permanent secretary when Mr Raab was foreign secretary between 2019 and 2021, said staff “felt demeaned”.

“Colleagues did not complain to me formally, it was kind of their professional pride to cope, but many were scared to go into his office,” the crossbench peer told Times Radio.

“His sort of defence was that he treated everybody in the building in the same way. He was as abrasive and controlling with junior ministers and senior officials as he was with his private secretaries.”

During that time Lord McDonald confirmed he raised the minister’s behaviour with the Cabinet Office’s proprietary and ethics team.

“It was language, it was tone, he could be very curt with people and he did this in front of a lot of other people. I think people felt demeaned,” the former official said.

“And I tried to have that conversation with him, I had several conversations with him. But it wouldn’t surprise me today if he said, ‘I don’t recognise that’ because I felt at the time that my message wasn’t landing.”

He urged Mr Sunak to “have another look” at bullying complaints procedures.

The Independent can also reveal that the Foreign Office was eventually forced to release data on Mr Raab’s complaints record the first time he worked for the department by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Officials had tried to stonewall questions over whether any complaints had been made to human resources while Mr Raab was at the Foreign Office between 2000 and 2006, and if so how many.

In 2020, after the ICO’s decision, the department responded that it did “not hold any information whatsoever” on the questions.

Mr Raab’s spokesperson declined to comment on the ICO decision.

Speaking in Bali, Mr Sunak said: “I’m not and have not been aware of any formal complaint about Dominic’s behaviour.”

He added: “Of course, there are established processes in place for people to raise concerns in all workplaces – private, public [sector].

“If people have concerns they should raise them because unless people raise them, it’s hard for people to actually then look into them and make any changes that are necessary.

“So I would urge people to do that. Those processes are confidential and it’s right that they are used.”

Among the allegations Mr Raab is facing is that staff were offered a “route out” of the department when he was reinstalled as justice secretary last month.

Mr Raab’s spokesperson said: “Dominic has acted with professionalism and integrity in all of his government roles.

“He has an excellent record of driving positive change in multiple government departments by working well with officials.

“He holds everyone, and most of all himself, to the high standards that the British people would expect of their government.”

Dave Penman, the head of the FDA union, which represents senior civil servants, called on Mr Sunak to reform the complaints system to address a “toxic work culture” in Whitehall.

He also urged the prime minister to appoint a new independent adviser on ministers’ interests.

No 10 also said Mr Sunak wanted a new ethics adviser to be appointed as soon as possible.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner demanded an independent investigation into Mr Raab.

“Rishi Sunak clearly knew about Dominic Raab’s reputation when he reappointed him to his cabinet,” she said.

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