British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab resigned from the government on Friday after an independent report found he had bullied officials, the latest scandal to force out one of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s top ministers.
The loss of a third senior minister over their personal conduct in six months will damage Sunak’s bid to revive his Conservative Party’s fortunes before local elections in May, and is an embarrassment as Sunak promised a government of integrity when he entered Downing Street in October.
Raab released an angry resignation letter arguing that the findings of the report, which said he had acted in a way that was “intimidating” and “persistently aggressive” while he was foreign minister, were flawed.
But he went through with his promise to quit if any bullying allegations were upheld.
“I called for the inquiry and undertook to resign if it made any finding of bullying whatsoever,” Raab said. “I believe it is important to keep my word.”
Raab had no formal powers as Sunak’s deputy but stepped in for the prime minister if he was away from parliament or incapacitated. He was a close political ally of Sunak and helped launch his campaign to be prime minister last summer.
The bullying findings undermine Sunak’s attempts to present his government as a clean break from the scandal-ridden premiership of Boris Johnson and from the chaotic economic policies that brought down Liz Truss after less than two months.
Sunak said he accepted Raab‘s resignation with great sadness and acknowledged his concerns about how initial allegations about his behavior had been handled.
The five-month investigation by lawyer Adam Tolley into Raab‘s behavior heard evidence from government officials about complaints of bullying at three different departments.
Raab went further than appropriate with his critical feedback and was insulting about work done by officials at the Ministry of Justice, the report found, adding he had been abrasive but not deliberately abusive.
The report also found that while he had not sworn or shouted at colleagues, he had harshly criticized civil servants’ work, describing work by some officials as “utterly useless” and “woeful”.
“(Raab) has been able to regulate this level of ‘abrasiveness’ since the announcement of the investigation,” Tolley said. “He should have altered his approach earlier.”
Raab, 49, is part of a generation of politicians who rose to power after the Brexit vote in 2016. He was demoted as British foreign minister in 2021 after he went on holiday to Crete as the Taliban advanced toward Kabul.
Raab requested the investigation in November following formal complaints about his behavior.
He apologized for causing any unintended stress or offense but said the report “set a dangerous precedent” for effective government with a low threshold for what constituted bullying.
This will “have a chilling effect on those driving change on behalf of your government – and ultimately the British people”, he said in his letter.
Oliver Dowden, the cabinet office minister and a key Sunak ally, was appointed as the new deputy prime minister, while former lawyer Alex Chalk was named as the new justice minister.
Some Conservative lawmakers said Raab did not deserve to lose his job. Keir Starmer, the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, accused Sunak of “weakness” for letting Raab resign rather than sacking him.
Another of Sunak’s senior ministers, Gavin Williamson, quit in November after bullying allegations and the prime minister sacked Conservative Party chair Nadhim Zahawi in January after he was found to have broken the ministerial code over his openness about his tax affairs.
Sunak is facing his own investigation by parliament’s standards watchdog over whether he properly declared his wife’s shareholding in a childcare company that stands to benefit from the new government policy.
Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters