British Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab arrives outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London. Image Credit: REUTERS file

LONDON: British Deputy Prime Minister and justice minister Dominic Raab resigned on Friday, following an independent investigation into formal complaints of bullying.

The loss of the third senior minister over their personal conduct in the last six months will damage Sunak’s efforts to revive the governing Conservative Party’s fortunes and is a major embarrassment as he had entered Downing Street in October promising a government of integrity.

The  government later named Oliver Dowden deputy prime minister on Friday, replacing Raab.

Dowden currently serves as cabinet office minister Image Credit: Reuters

Dowden currently serves as cabinet office minister in Sunak's government. He was previously chairman of Sunak's Conservative Party but resigned from that post last June after two crushing by-election defeats for the party.

In the same announcement, lawmaker Alex Chalk was appointed new justice minister, a position which was previously held by Raab.

In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak published on Twitter, Raab said the inquiry had set a dangerous precedent, but that he would remain supportive of the government.

“I called for the inquiry and undertook to resign, if it made any finding of bullying whatsoever. I believe it is important to keep my word,” Raab, 49, said.

Raab told Sunak in the letter 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.
“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.
Raab said 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 ... I hope these will be independently reviewed”.
Raab, who also previously served as Britain’s foreign minister, said he would remain supportive of Sunak and the government.
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.
He said at the time he had been notified of complaints from when he was foreign minister and justice minister.
Raab had said he was confident he had behaved professionally throughout. Sunak initially defended his deputy when the allegations surfaced, saying he did not recognise allegations that Raab had bullied staff.
The report has not been published yet, and there has been no comment yet from Sunak.

However, he added: “In setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent. 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.”

Sunak said on Friday he had accepted Raab’s resignation with “great sadness”.

“It is with great sadness that I have accepted your resgination,” Sunak told Raab in a letter.

“But it is clear that there have been shortcomings in the historic process that have negatively affected everyone involved. We should learn from this how to better handle such matters in future.”

Raab’s resignation means a third senior minister has departed over their personal conduct since Sunak entered Downing Street in October promising a government of integrity.

Who's Raab?
The son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, Raab studied law at Oxford University before becoming a lawyer working on project finance, international litigation and competition law.
He became a member of parliament in 2010 and has had several senior ministerial jobs.
Raab’s removal from government seemingly brings an end to his Cabinet career, which had become dogged by allegations that he had bullied junior officials throughout his time in office.
He had been seen as a long-standing ally of Sunak, and was one of his most high-profile supporters during the Conservative leadership contest last summer.
The development is a threat to the narrative Downing Street has been seeking to create that it focused on delivering on its central policy pledges to voters.
However, Sunak’s allies will argue that his decision to ax one of his closest supporters shows he is making good on his promise to run a government that’s accountable and focused on policy delivery.
The decision also raises questions for Raab’s future political career. He has a slim majority of about 2,700 votes in his Esher and Walton seat in leafy Surrey, which is being heavily targeted by the Liberal Democrat party. Sunak’s Conservatives trail labour by a double-digit margin in polling, an he must all a general election by January 2025 at the latest.

Raab's announcement on Friday came the day after  Sunak received findings into eight formal complaints that Raab, who is also justice secretary, had been abusive toward staff during a previous stint in that office and while serving as foreign secretary and Brexit secretary.

Former lawyer Raab, a karate black belt,  49, denied claims he belittled and demeaned his staff and said he “behaved professionally at all times,” but had said he would resign if the bullying complaints were upheld.

Sunak is facing his own investigation

Sunak received the report Thursday morning and was carefully considering the findings but didn'i immediately make a decision, spokesperson Max Blain said.

The resignation will do little to improve the public perception of his government following the scandal-ridden tenure of Boris Johnson and the chaotic economic policies that brought down Liz Truss after less than two months.

Another of Sunak’s senior ministers, Gavin Williamson, was forced to resign 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 into his behaviour over whether he properly declared his wife’s shareholding in a childcare company which stands to benefit from new government policy.