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British deputy prime minister resigns amid bullying scandal

Dominic Raab’s career in frontline politics looks to be coming to an ugly end, after a high-profile investigation concluded that he intimidated and bullied staff across government departments.

(CN) — British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab resigned from his post Friday, following a long-awaited report which found that he engaged in “unreasonably and persistently aggressive” behavior during his time in government and had misused power “in a way that undermines or humiliates.”

Raab – who also served as justice secretary in the British government – was facing at least 24 allegations of bullying from civil servants in his current department and previous departments he had overseen. He had pledged to resign if the investigation into the complaints found that he had bullied staff.

In a feisty resignation letter, Raab strongly rejected the report’s findings, accusing the barrister who conducted the investigation into his behavior of “setting the threshold for bullying so low” and arguing that his removal “set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government.”

The investigation into Raab’s behavior had become a major hindrance to the administration of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Revelations of formal complaints against Raab first emerged back in November, with leaked allegations that some staff were driven to tears, throwing up before meetings and in one case left feeling suicidal as a result of Raab’s treatment.

Sunak launched the inquiry when the claims surfaced, but as the process dragged on it became subject to constant leaking, providing a distraction to the government while it tried to recover its reputation following the Liz Truss debacle, as well as placing the Justice Department in a constant state of limbo.

Raab’s ousting will stave off a mass resignation of senior civil servants in the department, which had been threatened if the minister was retained. But it also means that Sunak loses a loyal ally in government, and it raises ill-timed questions about the prime minister’s judgement in appointing him, weeks before local elections across England and after months of relative peace at the top of the Conservative Party.

The defiant nature of Raab’s exit has not done Sunak any favors. Raab’s allies have told reporters that he is the victim of a politically motivated plot to oust him by overly sensitive civil servants, with Raab himself describing his treatment as “Kafkaesque” in an article for The Telegraph on Friday morning.

Given Raab’s reputation, his fiery resignation is not surprising. Prior to his ascendancy to government, Raab was a known figure on the right wing of the Conservative Party, and noted for his opposition to feminism and affirmative action. In 2011 he described feminists as “amongst the most obnoxious bigots,” and complained that men were facing increasing discrimination in the public realm.

A passionate Brexit supporter, Raab was appointed to lead the British government’s exit negotiations with the European Union in 2018, before resigning from the position four months later in opposition to then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed withdrawal agreement. He subsequently ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2019, losing out to eventual winner Boris Johnson, who appointed him foreign secretary.

His most contentious moment in government came in 2021 when, as foreign secretary, he was accused of being "missing in action" during the chaotic withdrawal of British troops and allies from Afghanistan. Raab – who was on holiday in Greece at the time – did not return home from his trip as Kabul fell to the Taliban, reportedly leaving junior employees in an understaffed department to deal with up to 150,000 requests for evacuation from the country.

A subsequent bipartisan parliamentary investigation found that the Foreign Office’s management of the crisis was a “disaster” and those who led the department “should be ashamed.”

Raab was subsequently demoted from his role at the Foreign Office following the Afghan affair, becoming justice secretary for the rest of the Johnson premiership, and reappointed to the justice post by Sunak after the short prime ministerial tenure of Truss. As justice secretary, he has been an outspoken opponent of the Human Rights Act and led government efforts to replace the landmark legislation.

He is not the first British Cabinet minister found to have bullied civil servants in recent history. Former Home Secretary Priti Patel was allowed to keep her job in the Johnson administration after also being found to have bullied staff. The decision led to the resignation of Johnson’s ethics adviser, who ruled that Patel had failed to meet the behavioral standards expected of a minister.

Sunak will likely aim to portray a distinction between his treatment of Raab, and Johnson’s treatment of Patel, having pledged to restore integrity and accountability to governance when he took office.

However, Raab was also one of Sunak’s earliest backers in his bid for the party’s leadership, leaving the prime minister with conflicting priorities. Sunak took almost a full 24 hours to make his decision on Raab’s position after receiving the report, leading to accusations of weakness from opposition politicians – and fueling claims that the investigation had been part of a civil service conspiracy.

Despite the vocal backlash against the civil service from Raab supporters, such claims were ultimately rejected in the final report on Raab’s behavior, published Friday, in which barrister Adam Tolley said: “Having interviewed almost all of the individuals closely involved, I find that they are sincere and committed civil servants, with no ulterior agenda.”

The scandal is likely to mark the end of Raab’s career in senior politics – a dramatic fall for such a senior member of Cabinet. Sunak has replaced him as justice secretary with former defense minister Alex Chalk, and as deputy prime minister with Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden.

Categories / Civil Rights, Employment, Government, International, Politics

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