Rishi Sunak is facing further questions over his judgment as allegations emerged that his deputy Dominic Raab behaved aggressively towards staff during his previous stint as Justice Secretary.
Senior civil servants were offered a “route out” of Mr Raab’s department when he was reinstated to the role in October amid concerns they had been distressed by his past behaviour, reports suggest.
Multiple sources have alleged the Cabinet minister created a “culture of fear” in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) during his previous stint there, according to the Guardian.
The newspaper said it had been told Mr Raab acted in a “demeaning”, “rude” and “aggressive” manner, and that his behaviour went beyond “unprofessional”, with one source branding him a “bully”.
Further accounts emerged on Friday evening, with The Mirror reporting the Justice Secretary has acquired the nickname “The Incinerator” because he “burns through” staff.
The Sun, meanwhile, suggested Mr Raab had once hurled tomatoes from a Pret salad across a room in a fit of anger – an allegation branded “rotten” by shadow minister David Lammy.
A spokesman for the Cabinet minister said the latter claim was “nonsense”.
A Whitehall source also claimed an official informed the Cabinet Office of concerns over Mr Raab’s conduct when he was Brexit secretary, according to ITV News.
The department told the broadcaster it had “no record of any formal complaints”.
Insiders insisted that the Justice Secretary does not engage in bullying of any kind, acknowledging he is “direct” but saying he rates his team highly.
They refuted any suggestion he does not behave in a professional manner, adding that they do not recognise the “Incinerator” nickname or the idea there has been a high turnover of staff.
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 former chief whip Wendy Morton.
He also faced criticism for reinstating Suella Braverman as Home Secretary just six days after she was forced to quit over a security breach.
The Guardian reported that around 15 staff from the Justice Secretary’s private office were taken into a room when he returned to his post, where it was acknowledged they may be worried about his conduct.
They were said to have been given the option to move roles, with some visibly emotional.
Several officials went on to switch positions within the department, with one thought to be weighing up leaving entirely, the newspaper said.
However it cited sources suggesting a couple have since returned.
Antonia Romeo, the most senior civil servant in the MoJ, is said to have spoken to Mr Raab on his return to warn him of the need to treat staff professionally and with respect.
Labour described the accusations as “deeply troubling”, arguing they raise “yet more questions” about Mr Sunak’s judgment.
The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said the Prime Minister must “come clean” on whether he knew about the allegations when he reappointed Mr Raab to the MoJ, and called for the claims to be investigated “urgently and independently”.
“With each new scandal and grubby deal, it becomes more obvious that he is a weak leader, who puts party management before the national interest,” she said.
“He claimed zero tolerance for bullying, promised a Government of integrity and pledged to urgently appoint an ethics adviser, yet is falling far short on every promise.
“Rishi Sunak is already showing he is not just failing to stop the rot but letting it fester.”
Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper claimed the Tory Government does not have “a shred of integrity left”.
“These latest reports are deeply disturbing and must be investigated immediately by the Cabinet Office,” she said.
Mr Raab, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, was removed from his MoJ post by Liz Truss on her elevation to No 10 in September.
He had held the Cabinet role since September 2021 and was reinstated by Mr Sunak last month.
The Guardian said it had spoken to officials who defended Mr Raab’s approach, but acknowledged it could be read as unprofessional – or even bullying.
It is understood no formal complaints have been made against the Cabinet minister.
A spokesman for Mr Raab said: “Dominic has high standards, works hard, and expects a lot from his team as well as himself.
“He has worked well with officials to drive the Government’s agenda across Whitehall in multiple government departments and always acts with the utmost professionalism.”
A MoJ spokeswoman said: “There is zero tolerance for bullying across the civil service.
“The Deputy Prime Minister leads a professional department, driving forward major reforms, where civil servants are valued and the level of ambition is high.”
Mr Raab’s comeback as Justice Secretary was previously branded “concerning” by opponents who criticised his record on barrister strikes and court backlogs.
He refused to meet the Criminal Bar Association for talks during the industrial action, leaving it for his successor Brandon Lewis to resolve – which he succeeded in doing within weeks of taking office.