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.
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.
The loss of a third senior minister over their personal conduct in six months will damage Sunak’s bid to revive his 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 premiership of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.
Sunak said he accepted Raab's resignation with great sadness and acknowledged his concerns about how initial allegations about his behaviour had been handled.
The five-month investigation by lawyer Adam Tolley into Raab's behaviour 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.
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 which stands to benefit from new government policy.
Raab told PM Rishi Sunak the inquiry had dismissed all but two of the claims levelled against him and that it had set a dangerous precedent for government ministers. Raab also said the report had concluded he had not once “sworn or shouted at anyone, let alone thrown anything or otherwise physically intimidated anyone, nor intentionally sought to belittle anyone”.
He gave an apology: “I am genuinely sorry for any unintended stress or offence that any officials felt, as a result of the pace, standards and challenge that I brought to the Ministry of Justice.”
In setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent,” Raab said.
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“It will encourage spurious complaints against ministers, and have a chilling effect on those driving change on behalf of your government - and ultimately the British people.” He also said he raised with Sunak “a number of improprieties that came to light during the course of this inquiry” and called for a separate review.
Those improprieties included “the systematic leaking of skewed and fabricated claims to the media in breach of the rules of the inquiry and the Civil Service Code of Conduct”.
When did the inquiry begin?
Raab requested the investigation in November into two formal complaints about his behaviour. A month later it was widened to include five further formal complaints. Sunak initially defended his deputy when the allegations surfaced.
What did Sunak say?
Sunak said he accepted Raab’s resignation with great sadness but said there had been shortcomings in the way the initial reports of concerns about Raab were handled.