Nadhim Zahawi was sacked yesterday as chairman of the Conservative Party for breaching the ministerial code seven times in relation to his tax affairs. But he is not the only senior Tory in trouble. Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, is awaiting the outcome of an independent investigation into multiple bullying allegations.
A total of eight complaints – all denied by Rishi Sunak’s deputy – thought to involve more than 20 civil servants, and from Raab’s time in three government departments, have been made. The Justice Secretary was nicknamed “the incinerator” because he “burned through” staff so quickly and created a climate of fear, officials have claimed.
According to Simon McDonald, the former top civil servant at the Foreign Office, many were “scared to go into his [Raab’s] office”. The cross-bench peer told Times Radio, “He would be very curt with people. And he did this in front of a lot of other people. I think people felt demeaned. And I tried to have that conversation with him.”
With Sunak, who was reportedly “livid” with Zahawi, promising a zero-tolerance approach on propriety and ethics, Raab’s future in the cabinet looks increasingly uncertain.
May’s local elections are fast approaching and Zahawi’s old post as party chairman is now vacant, meaning Sunak will be forced into a mini-reshuffle. He might be hoping that Adam Tolley, the employment lawyer in charge of the investigation into allegations against Raab, is ready to conclude his bullying probe now.
Sunak’s net approval rating last week plummeted to -29 as the Zahawi saga dominated the headlines, and it will be difficult for the Prime Minister to mount a recovery should his popularity slide further. To some extent, Sunak has boxed himself in. He chose to keep Raab and Zahawi in post rather than suspending them while investigations were carried out.
Tolley is thought to be buried in paperwork as he wades his way through dozens of civil servant interviews, so unless Sunak discovers a new ruthless streak – and is prepared to risk allegations of inconsistency from colleagues – he may be lumbered with his deputy for some time yet.
[See also: What is the point of Rishi Sunak?]