Rishi Sunak has come out in defence of Dominic Raab despite allegations the Deputy Prime Minister bullied civil servants and deployed rude and demeaning behaviour.
The Prime Minister said he did not “recognise that characterisation” of the man he appointed Justice Secretary and denied knowing about any formal complaints against him.
But additional weight was added to the claims when Lord McDonald, who worked with Mr Raab as the top official at the Foreign Office, agreed that allegations he could bully were plausible.
Mr Sunak was facing further questions over his judgment as allegations emerged about Mr Raab’s previous stint as Justice Secretary – with staff reportedly offered a “route out” of his department when he was reinstated in October.
The Prime Minister told reporters travelling with him to Indonesia for the G20 summit: “I don’t recognise that characterisation of Dominic and I’m not aware of any formal complaints about him.
“Of course there are established procedures for civil servants if they want to bring to light any issues.
“I’m not aware of any formal complaint about Dominic.”
Lord McDonald, who as Sir Simon McDonald was the permanent secretary at the Foreign Office while Mr Raab was foreign secretary, said bullying allegations were believable.
Asked by LBC radio if characterisation of Mr Raab as someone who could bully and around whom bullying could happen, he replied: “Yes.”
Lord McDonald added: “Dominic Raab is one of the most driven people I ever worked for, he was a tough boss.
“Maybe they are euphemisms, but I worked closely with him and I didn’t see everything that happened.”
Despite the stream of allegations, Mr Raab will face MPs when he stands in for his party leader during prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
Downing Street said that the Prime Minister believed that people in public life should treat others with “consideration and respect”.
A No 10 spokeswoman said that, while they were not aware of any formal complaint concerning Mr Raab, there were procedures available to civil servants if they had concerns.
“There are established procedures by which civil servants can raise complaints. These processes allow allegations to be looked at and considered with due process and a fair hearing,” the spokeswoman said.
A survey of 20 people working in Mr Raab’s private office when he was foreign secretary in 2019 showed that 40% reported personal experience of bullying and harassment – though not necessarily by Mr Raab – and 75% witnessed it, ITV reported on Sunday.
Asked about the leaked results, Mr Sunak said: “My understanding is that these surveys are annual and relate to the overall work environment, not to individuals.”
Sir Philip Barton, the current senior civil servant in the Foreign Office, told MPs he would not “comment on what appears to have been a leak of a document” but “for any scores in any area you need to look under the bonnet and look at what lies behind them rather than inferring any particular thing in any particular direction”.
The mandarin, who succeeded Lord McDonald in 2020, said: “I have worked very closely with successive foreign secretaries to build a culture of respect and kindness across the whole of the department.”
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner reiterated demands for an independent investigation to be launched.
“It is anti-bullying week, but instead of holding the bullies to account this Prime Minister is cowering behind them. Rishi Sunak clearly knew about Dominic Raab’s reputation when he reappointed him to his Cabinet,” she said.
“Rishi Sunak put the Tory Party before the country and cut a series of grubby deals to avoid facing a leadership contest, his Cabinet is overflowing with ministers embroiled in misconduct allegations. An independent investigation into Dominic Raab must urgently be launched.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats have written to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to ask for a list to be published of ministers with “credible allegations of bullying” made against them.
The Guardian previously reported that multiple sources alleged the Cabinet minister created a “culture of fear” in the Ministry of Justice.
The Mirror reported the Justice Secretary had acquired the nickname “The Incinerator” because he “burns through” staff.
The Sun, meanwhile, suggested Mr Raab had once hurled tomatoes from a salad across a room in a fit of anger, a claim a spokesman for the Cabinet minister said was “nonsense”.
The allegations will prove troublesome for Mr Sunak, whose choice of Cabinet colleagues has already been called into question.
The Prime Minister came under fire for reappointing Sir Gavin Williamson to his senior team despite being told he was under investigation for allegedly bullying a colleague, claims that caused Sir Gavin to quit.
He also faced criticism for reinstating Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just six days after she was forced to step down over a security breach.