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20 April 2023

A reckoning for Dominic Raab, and Rishi Sunak

With Adam Tolley KC’s report into bullying allegations against Raab imminent, will the Prime Minister be forced to sacrifice his deputy?

By Freddie Hayward

The newspapers this morning are full of speculation that the report by Adam Tolley QC into allegations that Dominic Raab bullied staff will be published today or tomorrow.

The investigation has popped in and out of headlines since it was launched in November. It’s been recently overshadowed by the SNP’s determination to usurp the Conservatives as the most scandal-hit party in Britain. SNP members are shuffling around Westminster, chastened by the headlines about the party’s finances. But Raab may come to their rescue with a resignation.

Prepare yourself for a barrage of commentary on the Ministerial Code. I’ll go first. The Prime Minister is the arbiter of the Ministerial Code. The boss decides the punishment. Therefore, Raab’s fate ultimately rests with his close ally Rishi Sunak. But what will influence the Prime Minister’s decision?

[See also: Rishi Sunak pledge tracker: UK inflation remains over 10 per cent]

Tolley has reportedly been asked to establish facts, not form a conclusion on whether Raab is a bully or has broken the code. If that’s the case, there’s some leeway for Raab to stay on because he has promised to resign if “an allegation of bullying” is upheld. A vague finding will make the outcome less definitive and more dependent on the reaction from Tory MPs. Many Conservative MPs are so far withholding judgement, out of a scepticism towards the civil service and a desire to wait for the full report. Pressure from Sunak’s own MPs will depend on the how grizzly the details are in the report. 

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In any case, the Prime Minister will be mindful not to follow the steps of that ethical connoisseur Boris Johnson, who ignored an investigation into bullying allegations against his home secretary, Priti Patel, even though an investigation found she breached the Ministerial Code. Sunak has promised to make a break with Johnson’s scandal-prone government – a promise he’s struggled to fulfil so far. 

The other point to bear in mind is that there are questions over when the Prime Minister was made aware of potential issues surrounding Raab’s behaviour. Some reports suggest senior civil servants warned him about Raab’s behaviour before he made him his deputy. Sacrificing his loyal lieutenant at the first opportunity would deflect attention from himself.

A final point is that a Raab sacking/resignation (it’s often hard to tell which it is these days) would initiate a reshuffle – not something the Prime Minister will welcome two weeks out from the local elections, his first proper electoral test since taking office.

[See also: Could Rishi Sunak be the Tories’ new Pitt the Younger?]

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