Civil servants allegedly bullied by Dominic Raab have suffered “mental health crises” and lost careers, the leader of a union representing Whitehall officials has claimed.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said some staff who worked with the senior cabinet minister had been forced to quit and downgrade jobs as a result of his behaviour.
The union boss also denied claims by Mr Raab’s allies that the complaints against him are a politically-motivated “conspiracy” to force him out as deputy prime minister.
“I’ve spoken to people who are civil servants working and have worked for Dominic Raab, who have suffered mental health crises, have lost their careers essentially because they’ve had to move and change jobs,” Mr Penman told Sky News.
Rishi Sunak has tasked lawyer Adam Tolley KC with investigating bullying claims against Mr Raab, with dozens of civil servants believed to be involved in eight formal complaints.
But the prime minister is under growing pressure to explain what exactly he knew about the allegations before appointing Mr Raab as his deputy PM and justice secretary.
Allies of Mr Raab have suggested that civil servants are trying to push him out, with one former colleague telling the Daily Mail that “there is a clear attempt by a group of politically motivated mandarins to get him”.
But Mr Penman responded: “That’s extraordinary and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Are we really seeing two dozen civil servants in three different government departments over a period of four years have got together in some massive conspiracy? That just doesn’t sound credible.”
No 10 has only ruled out Mr Sunak being aware of “formal complaints” – but refused to deny claims he was offered informal warning about issues with his ally’s alleged behaviour.
Mr Penman told the PM to “come clean”, adding that he is being “asked about whether he was aware of any informal concerns about Dominic Raab and, once again, he is refusing to answer that point”.
The union leader also said he was “astonished” by senior Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg’s warning to people against being “too snowflakey” about bullying allegations.
“I mean it’s not just about careers, people’s lives and their mental health are at risk when they are subject to systematic bullying, and to belittle it in that way is absolutely outrageous from a former leader of the House and cabinet minister,” Mr Penman said.
He repeated his call for Mr Raab to be suspended pending the probe. Opposition parties have called the PM “weak” for resisting such a move. Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “It goes to the weakness of the prime minister that he’s not prepared to take action when faced with the facts.”
Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said in the Commons on Thursday that Mr Raab would have been suspended pending an investigation into bullying allegations any other workplace. “Why is it one rule for the deputy prime minister and one rule for workers anywhere else?”
Cabinet Office minister Oliver Dowden replied: “The government takes any complaints of bullying and harassment very seriously. That is precisely why the prime minister appointed Adam Tolley to conduct this investigation.”
While Tory MPs are largely supportive of the need to await the conclusion investigation, there is a desire to draw a line under the saga soon.
One Tory backbencher told The Independent there was “a lot of frustration” among colleagues about the claims against Mr Raab, who want Mr Sunak to hurry the investigation to a conclusion. “We want it to go away as quickly as possible,” they said.
Former No 10 chief of staff Lord Udny-Lister defended Mr Raab on Thursday, but did say he was “pretty robust” and “not an easy man” to deal with.
“He will tell you exactly what he thinks,” he told LBC. “Now, I’m sorry, if people don’t like that, and some people might say that’s bullying. I don’t call that bullying.”
Three permanent secretaries who led officials working under Mr Raab at the Foreign Office, Ministry of Justice and Brexit department are thought to have spoken to the inquiry into Mr Raab, who has always denied bullying.