London | In a major blow to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, his close aide and Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab resigned on Friday after allegations he bullied staff members while working as a Cabinet minister across different government departments.
Sunak was handed the independent report into allegations made by several civil servants on Thursday, a copy of which has now been released by Downing Street.
Sunak expressed his "sadness" as he accepted the resignation of 49-year-old Rabb.
While Sunak praised Raab for keeping his word to resign in the event of any finding of bullying, he also pointed to “shortcomings” in the historic process that highlighted the need for better handling of such matters in the future.
"It is with great sadness that I have accepted your resignation," wrote Sunak in response to Raab's resignation letter earlier.
"As you say, you had – rightly – undertaken to resign if the report made any finding of bullying whatsoever. You have kept your word. But it is clear that there have been shortcomings in the historic process that have negatively affected everyone involved. We should learn from this how to better handle such matters in future," he said.
In a clear indication of his disappointment to see his close Cabinet colleague's exit, Sunak referenced a string of his achievements within the Conservative Party government and also his “steadfast personal support” during his leadership campaign last year.
"I will always be grateful for your steadfast personal support during last year's Conservative Party leadership contest from the day you introduced me at the launch to the last day of the contest. The subsequent dedication, commitment and loyalty with which you have discharged your responsibilities as deputy prime minister has been typical of your belief in public service," he notes.
In his resignation letter posted on Twitter, Raab noted that the report into his conduct had upheld two claims against him.
However, he did call them "flawed" and claimed they set a dangerous precedent of a low threshold for bullying for the conduct of good government.
"Whilst I feel duty bound to accept the outcome of the inquiry, it dismissed all but two of the claims levelled against me,” writes Raab.
"I also believe that its two adverse findings are flawed and set a dangerous precedent for the conduct of good government," he said.
"In setting the threshold for bullying so low, this inquiry has set a dangerous precedent. It will encourage spurious complaints against ministers, and have a chilling effect on those driving change on behalf of your government – and ultimately the British people," he added.
The outgoing minister pointed out that the review, carried out by independent investigator Adam Tolley KC, showed he had "not once, in four and a half years, sworn or shouted at anyone, let alone thrown anything or otherwise physically intimidated anyone, nor intentionally sought to belittle anyone" – referring to some of the allegations that were doing the rounds in the media over the course of the investigation.
In his letter addressed to Sunak, Raab said: "I called for the inquiry and undertook to resign, if it made any finding of bullying whatsoever. I believe it is important to keep my word." Raab, however, warned that the findings will encourage “spurious complaints” against ministers, and have a chilling effect on those driving change on behalf of the government and British people.
The Tory MP for Surrey in south-east England said ministers should be able to exercise direct oversight with respect to senior officials over critical negotiations.
“I am genuinely sorry for any unintended stress or offence that any officials felt, as a result of the pace, standards and challenge that I brought to the Ministry of Justice. That is, however, what the public expects of ministers working on their behalf," said Raab.
The Oxford and Cambridge University law graduate, who worked as a solicitor before embarking on a political career, was among the frontline Conservative MPs who were seen by Sunak's side as he campaigned to become the party's leader and Britain's first Indian-origin Prime Minister last year. He was rewarded with not one but two plum posts in his Cabinet.
His resignation letter alluded to that loyalty: "I remain as supportive of you [Sunak] and this government, as when I first introduced you at your campaign leadership launch last July.
"You have proved a great Prime Minister in very challenging times, and you can count on my support from the backbenches." Sunak had come under pressure soon after he appointed Raab to the two key Cabinet posts as the bullying allegations emerged.
Downing Street said at the time that Sunak was "not aware" of any formal complaints against Raab when he appointed him in October last year.
However, the Opposition Labour Party accused Sunak of ignoring reports about Raab's conduct.
Responding to Raab's resignation, Labour leader Keir Starmer said it shows the "continual weakness" of Prime Minister Sunak.
Speaking to reporters, he said Raab should never have been appointed in the first place and that the prime minister should have sacked him now instead of letting him resign.
Raab's exit will now necessitate a mini shuffle in the Cabinet, as reports indicate that Sunak may not refill the post of Deputy Prime Minister and only appoint a new Justice Secretary.