British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak suffered a serious blow to his premiership on Friday as one of his closest allies resigned over allegations he bullied officials.
In a resignation letter posted on Twitter on Friday, Dominic Raab said he decided to quit as deputy prime minister and justice secretary after an official inquiry found some of the claims made against him were justified. Sunak said he accepted Raab’s resignation with “great sadness,” and later replaced as deputy PM with Oliver Dowden.
The review into Raab, conducted by independent investigator Adam Tolley, followed eight formal complaints about his behavior while acting as foreign secretary, Brexit secretary and justice secretary.
“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,” he said.
He added that the inquiry into the allegation “dismissed all but two of the claims leveled against me” and “concluded I has not once, in four and a half years, sworn or shouted at anyone, let alone thrown anything or otherwise physically intimidated anyone, nor intentionally sought to belittle anyone.”
The report, published in full after Raab’s resignation on Friday, concluded that “he acted in a way which was intimidating, in the sense of unreasonably and persistently aggressive conduct in the context of a work meeting. It also involved an abuse or misuse of power in a way that undermines or humiliates.”
It went on to say that Raab’s “conduct was experienced as undermining or humiliating by the affected individual, which was inevitable. It is to be inferred that [Raab] was aware that this would be the effect of his conduct; at the very least, he should have been aware.”
Raab also said he believed the report sets a “dangerous precedent in setting the threshold for bullying so low” and said its findings were “flawed.”
Raab held several high-profile posts since joining the government as a junior minister in 2015. Besides serving as deputy prime minister, he was also the justice secretary and Lord Chancellor in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s government.
He was the foreign secretary during the Boris Johnson era, but was removed after receiving heavy criticism following the UK withdrawal from Afghanistan. He was on holiday in Greece as the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
He faced demands for his resignation after it emerged that not long before the fall of Kabul, he asked a deputy to handle an urgent call with the Afghan foreign minister regarding the evacuation of interpreters who had worked with British armed forces. The call never took place.
Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, criticized Sunak for letting Raab resign, rather than firing him. Speaking to the BBC on Friday, Starmer said the decision showed “weakness from top to bottom” of the government. “There’s a double weakness here. He should never have appointed him and then he didn’t sack him,” he added.
Resignation could hurt Sunak
Raab’s resignation is a blow for Sunak who, despite coming from the right of the Conservative party himself, has been painted as softer than his predecessors Liz Truss and Johnson.
The Johnson comparison is particularly pertinent as Sunak served as his Chancellor of the Exchequer during the Covid pandemic, only to offer his resignation as scandals engulfed the then-prime minister. Johnson allies believe that Sunak’s resignation ultimately led to the end of his premiership and have not forgiven him.
Raab, who reminded Sunak in his resignation letter that he has been loyal since Sunak’s failed leadership bid last summer, is seen as a firm Brexiteer and a cornerstone of the right of the party. He got the attention of the Euroskeptic movement in 2014 when he led a rebellion of 81 MPs against then PM and ardent Europhile David Cameron.
Raab bolstered Sunak’s right-wing credentials, helping to push through policies that required bringing that section of the party with him. And while Raab has promised his loyalty to Sunak, former ministers are able to create trouble on the backbenches, if they wish to.
The question now is whether or not Raab wants to do this. He is sincerely loyal to Sunak and understands that Sunak really is a political ally to the right of the party. However, his resignation letter implies that Raab was very unhappy that he had to leave government.
The coming days will tell us more about the extent to which Raab was pushed or jumped. If it’s the former, he could have reason to make life difficult for Sunak later down the line when he struggles with Johnson allies on the right of the party.
Raab is the second Sunak ally to resign over bullying claims in less than six months. Cabinet office minister Gavin Williamson resigned from his role in November over accusations, which he denied.