Former Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has accused “activist civil servants” of attempting to obstruct the work of government, following his dramatic resignation over allegations of bullying. An inquiry found he was “intimidating” and “aggressive” towards officials. In his first interview since stepping down, Mr Raab told the BBC he was sorry if he had upset anyone, but that this did not constitute bullying. He said there was a risk that a “very small minority” of officials with a “passive aggressive culture” were trying to impede reforms they did not agree with.
Mr Raab stated that the only complaints upheld against him were from “a handful of very senior officials”, out of hundreds of civil servants he had worked with. When asked if it was true that he was a nightmare to work for, the former justice secretary said that “almost all of the complaints against me were dismissed”. He said a “very small minority of very activist civil servants” were working to block reforms related to Brexit, prisoner parole and human rights, which he described as “not democratic”.
The FDA union, which represents civil servants, accused Mr Raab of peddling “dangerous conspiracy theories that undermine the impartiality and integrity of the civil service”. The head of the union, Dave Penman, said the prime minister had a duty to defend the impartiality of the civil service and “stop giving his former ally a free hand”.
One former senior civil servant who worked closely with Mr Raab said his comments seemed to be “at odds” with his usual praise for civil servants. Another said: “In my experience, most civil servants do their jobs because they want to deliver for the public. I think you’d struggle to find a similar example of the disfunction we’ve heard about in Tolley’s report so it’s perhaps fair to draw the conclusion that there is one common thread to this unique situation and that’s Raab.”
The inquiry by senior lawyer Adam Tolley KC looked at eight formal complaints about Mr Raab’s behaviour during his previous stints as justice secretary, foreign secretary and Brexit secretary. His report concluded Mr Raab’s conduct involved “an abuse or misuse of power”, and that he “acted in a manner which was intimidating” and “persistently aggressive” towards officials.
When asked if he wanted to apologise, Mr Raab said: “If someone had hurt feelings, because of something I did, of course, I want an empowered team. The vast majority of the civil servants who worked for me were brilliant, fantastic and actually relished the energy, the challenge, the drive that I believe I brought. But of course, I don’t want to upset anyone and I made clear that I’m sorry for that. But that’s not bullying, and we can’t deliver for the British people if the bar is that low.”
He added that the findings of the inquiry set “a very dangerous precedent”, as it would make it almost impossible for ministers to deliver for the British people. He said many ministers were now “very fearful that the direct challenge that they bring fairly, squarely in government, may leave them at risk of the same treatment that I’ve had”.
When asked if he would fight the next general election as a Conservative candidate in Esher and Walton, where he has slim majority of less than 3,000 votes, Mr Raab said he wanted to “let the dust settle” but ultimately it was a decision for his local constituency association.