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Downing Street Rejects Call For Rishi Sunak’s Ethics Adviser To Rule In Raab Bullying Inquiry

No10 said Rishi Sunak will be the sole arbiter of whether Dominic Raab broke the ministerial code over bullying allegations (Alamy)

4 min read

Exclusive: Rishi Sunak has rejected calls for his ethics adviser to be involved in the investigation into claims Dominic Raab bullied civil servants, after the current process was labelled “clearly flawed”.

The general secretary of the FDA union which represents senior civil servants, Dave Penman, said the inquiry into the behaviour of the Deputy Prime Minister conducted by the lawyer Adam Tolley is not independent because Sunak alone will decide if any rules were broken.

When the allegations first came to light last year the Prime Minister had yet to fill the position of Independent Adviser on Ministers' Interests, which had been vacant since Lord Geidt quit under Boris Johnson’s administration. He was eventually replaced by Laurie Magnus. In the interim Tolley, an experienced KC, was hired to look into the claims – of which there are now thought to be at least 20. Raab denies that he bullied civil servants while in government.

Penman said that under the terms of reference Tolley has only been tasked with establishing the facts, and will hand his report to Sunak to determine if the ministerial code has been breached.

Speaking to The Rundown podcast from PoliticsHome, the union boss said normally civil servants would interview those involved and gather evidence, whereupon the adviser would determine if the actions were in breach, and pass that on to the PM to act.

“Right now, we don't have that because of the timing of the appointment of Laurie Magnus as the ethics advisor, there is no one playing that role when it comes to this investigation,” Penman said.

“The KC Adam Tolley is only establishing the facts, and then everything else is up to the Prime Minister.”

He said getting Magnus involved would put the investigation on a similar footing to his recent inquiry into Nadhim Zahawi, who was sacked as Tory party chairman after being found in breach of the ministerial code over his tax affairs.

“That independent element of that process, I think, is really critical – and that's what's missing when it comes to the Dominic Raab investigation,” Penman added.

He has also written to Sunak asking for this to happen, saying the “process is clearly flawed” as it currently stands, but Downing Street has told PoliticsHome that Magnus will not have a formal role in assessing the Raab allegations.

The PM’s official spokesperson said they would not get into any potential discussions between the pair as they are always private, adding: “The Prime Minister will remain the final arbiter of the code and therefore will make any necessary decisions.”

Laurie Magnus
Rishi Sunak had not appointed Laurie Magnus as his ethics adviser when he launched an investigation into Dominic Raab (Alamy)

Appearing on the podcast alongside Penman was Labour shadow minister Fleur Anderson, who said the Raab case was a “horrible insight” into a potentially “toxic culture of bullying” within government.

She criticised Sunak for not just letting the process drag on but “supporting and promoting the very person that these allegations are being held against”, adding: “And what does that say for everyone else who's working with ministers?

“What does that say for the best way we can be making our decisions, this is why it's so important we should be upholding in Parliament the best standards of public life, instead of seeing what we're seeing here.”

The MP said the processes for tackling such matters must be improved and also sped up, saying the public perception of politicians and Parliament is being damaged.

“Instead of restoring public trust, which Rishi Sunak promised to do when he became PM after all that went wrong with Boris Johnson's premiership, and all of that breakdown of trust and integrity, he should have stood there and said ‘come on, everyone involved in this administration, we've got to be so much better’, and yet again, it's falling apart,” Anderson added.

“So no wonder we've we're losing public trust instead of rebuilding it.”

She was speaking on the day that former Labour MP Jared O’Mara was sentenced to four years in prison for filing fraudulent parliamentary expense claims to fund his cocaine habit, while a number of current MPs from the party remain suspended pending investigation for a wide range of alleged misdeeds.

Anderson, who is shadow Paymaster General in Keir Starmer’s frontbench team, acknowledges Labour has work to do in this area too.

“We've got to be absolutely prepared to take that, and to have the highest standards it's going to be uncomfortable for us,” she explained.

“I can't say we're going to be perfect, not at all, we have to take that and accept that any new system means more scrutiny for us as well.

“Not changing the system makes it look like they don't want to see more scrutiny, we would change the system realising absolutely fully this means more scrutiny on us.”

https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/the-rundown-by-politicshome/id1205139782

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