Dominic Raab behaved so badly in a meeting with the Home Office during his first stint as Justice Minister that his department’s top official had to personally apologize to his counterparts afterwards, the Guardian has been told.
Sources in Whitehall said the deputy prime minister, facing two official complaints about alleged bullying, had acted “so badly and inappropriately” earlier this year at a high-level meeting that the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was forced to call the senior officials of Home Secretary Priti Patel to express regret.
An insider suggested that the most senior Justice Department official, Antonia Romeo, had taken the highly unusual step of apologizing on behalf of her minister to prevent the incident from escalating into a formal complaint. However, it is unclear whether Raab was aware of her actions at the time.
Neither department denied that the apology meeting had taken place. A Justice Department spokesperson said: “The Justice Department is working hand-in-hand with the Interior Ministry and calls between officials to follow up on interdepartmental meetings are standard operating procedure.”
Rishi Sunak has been questioned about his judgment on Raab’s reappointment as justice minister following a series of allegations about his behavior towards officials from three different departments, including the MoJ, the Foreign Office and the Brexit Department.
The allegations of his “bullying” have now led to calls for an investigation into the “toxic culture” at the Foreign Office as he oversaw the chaotic withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, similar to the Home Office’s review Business in the aftermath of the Windrush scandal.
The prime minister has supported his deputy but has agreed to open an investigation into two formal complaints made against him by officials who worked with him at the Foreign Office and the Justice Department.
However, the investigation is suspended until No. 10 assigns an outside figure to carry it out. Sunak is also under pressure to fill the position of independent ethics advisor, which is vacant for five months. Raab has previously said he has “never tolerated bullying” and has “always tried to empower and empower officials”.
Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Dominic Raab leaves a trail of senior officials forced to spend their time apologizing for his toxic behavior and reading him the riot bill, rather than focusing on making Britons safe on our streets.
“This embarrassing incident shows that his bad behavior is not only an embarrassment to the department he claims to lead, but also hinders the proper functioning of the government.
Rishi Sunak promised to bring integrity to the steps of the No. 10, but now the deputy reappointed is already facing an independent inquiry into his conduct with a slew of revelations about his unacceptable behavior casting a shadow over his government. “
The Guardian reported that his refusal to speak to some State Department staff whom he considered “time wasters” led to “blockades” during the evacuation in Afghanistan, with staff from two departments he led being forced to take sick leave on because of his alleged behavior.
Sources claimed the deputy prime minister’s behavior exacerbated the chaotic departure of British troops during the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021, which officials warned was “costly” and causing “long-term” damage.
The allegations of Raab’s “bullying” have led Labor to call for an inquiry into the culture of the Foreign Office along the lines of the overhaul of the Home Office carried out by Wendy Williams following the Windrush scandal.
David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said there appeared to have been a “deeper trend of toxicity, disturbance, bullying and declining morale” which would have “damaged Britain’s influence on the world stage”.
He also cited an internal civil service survey that found the State Department ranked in the bottom three departments for leadership: “There are now serious questions to answer about whether alleged bullying ministers have created a wider culture of toxicity in one of the state’s major offices.
“Britain’s great diplomats deserve ministers who uphold the highest standards and treat them with dignity and respect.
“In addition to individual investigations into Raab already underway, the FCDO needs an independent evaluation of its culture to learn lessons from the Tory failure, so that a department that could once boast that it was a model for diplomatic services across the whole world, can do that again.”
New figures obtained by the Guardian also reveal that not a single official who worked in the Foreign Secretary’s office left the department in 2017-19, when Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were in charge.
Raab led the department from July 2019 to September 2021, and his tenure coincides with an increase in departures: 24% in FY 2019/20, 28% in 2020/21 and 12% in 2021/22. Allies have suggested that the departure was accidental.