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Sunday, Feb 25, 2024

No evidence of ‘activists’ working against Raab, says former mandarin

No evidence of ‘activists’ working against Raab, says former mandarin

Lord McDonald said he had spoken with the former foreign secretary ‘more than once’ about his conduct towards Foreign Office staff

A former senior civil servant who worked with Dominic Raab says he has seen no evidence to support the ex-deputy prime minister’s accusation that Civil Service “activists” were working against him.

Lord McDonald, who was permanent secretary of the Foreign Office for five years, said there was no Civil Service “agenda” and the “minister’s behaviour” was the issue.

Mr Raab resigned on Friday as deputy prime minister and justice secretary after an investigation into bullying accusations found he acted in an intimidating and aggressive way with officials in behaviour that could have amounted to bullying.

After announcing his decision to quit, the senior Conservative lashed out at what he called “activist civil servants” who were able to “block reforms or changes through a rather passive-aggressive approach” when dealing with ministers.

But Lord McDonald, who gave evidence to Adam Tolley KC’s bullying investigation to provide background context for complaints against Mr Raab, said he “saw no evidence” of what he was alleging.

The peer told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I disagree strongly with Mr Raab. I think all the civil servants I saw working for Dominic Raab worked very hard for him in the way they are required to do.

“There is no Civil Service activism, there is no Civil Service passive aggression, there is no separate Civil Service agenda.

Simon McDonald

“I saw no evidence of a small group of activists trying to undermine a minister. The issue is a minister’s behaviour.”

Mr Tolley led a five-month investigation into eight formal complaints about Mr Raab’s conduct as Brexit secretary and foreign secretary, and in his previous tenure leading the Ministry of Justice.

The lawyer concluded Mr Raab engaged in an “abuse or misuse of power” that “undermines or humiliates” while he was foreign secretary.

Mr Raab’s conduct in the department had a “significant adverse effect” on one colleague and he was also found to have been intimidating to staff by criticising “utterly useless” and “woeful” work while justice secretary.

Though he stopped short of describing the conduct as bullying, Mr Tolley’s findings were consistent with what he said would amount to the offence under the Ministerial Code.

Lord McDonald, permanent secretary between 2015 and 2020, said he had to speak to Mr Raab about his “tough taskmaster” approach with staff “more than once” at the Foreign Office.

The retired mandarin said Mr Raab “disputed the characterisation” put to him.

A union chief has called on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to “intervene” after Mr Raab’s attack on the Civil Service, saying it is causing the UK Government to enter “quite dangerous territory”.

Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA — a union representing senior civil servants including some of the complainants against Mr Raab — told Times Radio that Mr Sunak’s former deputy had “no evidence” to support “spurious” claims about activism in the Civil Service.

Mr Raab’s allies such as former business secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “unnecessary” for him to have stood down.

While under investigation, Mr Raab had committed to resigning if any complaints against him were upheld.

Lord Swire, a former minister and member of Mr Raab’s 2019 Tory leadership campaign team, said the report into the politician’s behaviour did not seem to conclude he had bullied staff.

The former MP for East Devon, after quoting a passage from Mr Tolley’s report which said he did not find Mr Raab had intended to “upset or humiliate” staff, said: “That does not show to me bullying.

“I’m actually struggling to work out why Mr Raab has actually gone. The fact is, this is a question of style.”

Lord Swire, referencing a row over negotiations about Spain’s role in post-Brexit Gibraltar which is mentioned in the 47-page document, said Mr Raab had been “entitled to get extremely cross” about civil servants allegedly overstepping their mandate.

Mr Tolley had viewed Mr Raab’s decision to refer to the Civil Service Code during the dispute with an official as a “form of intimidating behaviour”, adding that the then foreign secretary “ought to have realised” that bringing up the code “could well have been understood as a threat”.

But Tory MP Sir Bill Wiggin, another Raab ally, suggested to Times Radio that there is now a “real danger” that civil servants who disagree with a minister’s policies or approach “will scream bullying”.

Oliver Dowden, who was promoted to Deputy Prime Minister by Mr Sunak after Mr Raab’s exit, is due to represent the Government on Sunday broadcast programmes for the first time since being handed his new role.

Mr Raab’s former Justice Secretary post was filled by Alex Chalk.

Lord Swire said he thought Mr Raab was “too big a talent” not to be back in Government “in some capacity”, suggesting his resignation was only a “temporary halt” to his political career.

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