Inside the excruciating 24 hours for Sunak that led to Raabs downfall

Dominic Raab: Sam Coates on PM’s difficult judgements

Senior Conservative MPs are livid at the way Mr Raab has been treated and believe it is yet another example of a Prime Minister whose response to trouble is “to move on” and not stand by his friends and allies. Critics of Mr Sunak argue that he treats ministers like he treats difficult policies, he tries to put them behind him in “the hope his fingerprints will not be on the mess.”

The inside story on how Raab ended up quitting this morning starts late yesterday morning when the report from Adam Tolley KC landed on Mr Sunak’s desk.

The Prime Minister was posed with a problem – six of the eight claims against his Deputy Prime Minister had been dismissed but two were at least partially upheld but not in a way which meant that Raab should definitely resign.

At this point he had a choice – he could stand by his friend and ally and take the political flak, just as Boris Johnson did with Priti Patel when she went through similar problems; or he could sack him.

Neither was particularly palatable and the discussions with his inner circle alighted on a preferred solution – get Raab to resign.

This way the Prime Minister could try to rise above the criticism and not have to put up with the accusations that he was protecting a bully.

The problem was that, perhaps not surprisingly, Raab did not feel he had done anything wrong and did not want to jettison his political career by resigning.

As one senior figure explained: “That’s why the decision was delayed until overnight, to give them time to persuade Dominic to go.”

Eventually, though the pressure told.

One MP in the know said: “Dominic was told that the Prime Minister would not stand by him if he tried to stay on, so he had to resign.”

The term “Rishi ‘no fingerprints’ Sunak” has been banded around by a number of MPs this morning.

While he will hope that this will allow him to move on from another problem, it appears that instead, a Prime Minister with no election mandate and no mandate as party leader from members could be storing up trouble for himself.

One former senior minister put it bluntly: “The whole strategy of Downing Street whether it is ministers or policies is for the Prime Minister to move on.

“If a minister is going to attract negative publicity it is better for him to go and move on.

“If there is an awkward policy area it is better to push through a quick solution however bad and move on, which is what happened with the Windsor Framework and Northern Ireland.

“Everything is geared to the Prime Minister attracting as little negative publicity as possible and not being tied to any problems.

“With Dominic, he will have seen how the accusations against Priti stuck around when Boris supported her, and he would not have wanted that for himself.”

The senior MP added: “In the end, this is going to come back to bite him, whether it is the consequences of bad policies on things like Northern Ireland or the betrayed colleagues on the back benches.”

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Loyalty is a much underrated but highly valued commodity in politics and while leaders want loyalty from their MPs, MPs also want loyalty from their leaders too when they face difficult times.

Raab seems unlikely to go away and has already let it be known that he feels badly let down by Mr Sunak, a man he helped come to power as Prime Minister in a coup against Liz Truss.

One Tory MP noted: “Raab will have been promised that he will be brought back at some point to try to buy his continued loyalty, but he will quickly realise that promises like that from Sunak are empty.”

Others point out that Boris Johnson, while wounded by the ongoing Privileges Committee inquiry, has also not gone away.

Party members are already going on strike in the local elections campaign, refusing to deliver leaflets because of anger over the way they believe Johnson was stabbed in the back.

The Conservative Democratic Organisation, a grassroots campaign group, appears to be gaining members and support and is fronted by another Boris ally Priti Patel.

Their criticism of Sunak is that he has no mandate from the membership and senior Tory MPs are noting that this is becoming a problem again for Sunak.

“You cannot just move on from people when you have no mandate and most of your colleagues did not back you in a leadership election.

“He missed his chance to ask party members to endorse him as well.

“Sunak is in a much weaker position than people realise.”

But even if you accept that Raab had to go for bullying, then it still raises question marks about Mr Sunak’s judgement.

Key to ensuring he was installed as Prime Minster last autumn were two of his senior allies organising behind the scenes Sir Gavin Williamson and Raab – now both men have been forced to quit over bullying.

If the psychologists are right and you can tell someone’s true character by the people, they surround themselves with then this is a poor reflection on Sunak.

While the Prime Minister is himself a very pleasant and engaging personality it is hard to escape the view that he gravitated towards two colleagues who were known as hard men in the Westminster world.

It is not as if there had not been warnings about either.

Williamson with his pet tarantula had been infamous as Chief Whip, there was barely a Tory MP who did not have a story of something horrible he had threatened or done to get discipline.

Meanwhile, there had been stories about Raab including claims about a non-disclosure order which went beyond his grim expression.

In the months over revelations about alleged bullying claims against him it has been hard to find anybody to come out and say publicly that he is not a bully.

Various private briefings have mentioned “Whitehall snowflakes” in the civil service – and the number of claims dismissed in the report by Adam Tolley KC suggest that there was a great deal of over sensitivity in some quarters.

But a number of people who worked with Raab over years have just refused point blank to write pieces defending his character.

Contrast that with Patel when she faced bullying allegations as Home Secretary and there were plenty of people ready to defend her to the hilt.

The allegations against Raab were spread across the three departments he had headed – the Brexit department, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Justice.

An ex-Ministry of Justice civil servant told Mr Raab was “horrible” and “made [civil servants’] lives miserable.”

A Tory MP who knows him well said: “He doesn’t set out to bully people, it’s just the way he is and he probably does not believe he is behaving badly.”

A former colleague said: “He’s not a bully but he doesn’t suffer fools gladly or otherwise.”

However, his old boss David Davis has insisted he is not a bully as has former Australian MP Tim Smith who worked with him in Davis’ office many years ago.

It is clear that Raab feels hard done by and that the threshold for what counts as bullying “has been set too low”.

There is, though, a wider concern, that Sunak has now opened the floodgates for civil servants to simply make bullying claims when they do their work badly or fail to follow government policy.

One former minister said it “was a constant threat” and “hampered the work of government” but “now will mean we can get nothing done.”

The ex-minister added: “Sunak really has been weak here and he has now allowed a situation where all a civil servant has to do is make a bullying claim, get it in the public domain and that’s it for the minister.”

Another said: “Dominic has an abrasive personality but he’s not a bully. He was though an easy target for bullying allegations because he has a short fuse. It’s very similar to Priti in that respect.”

Then there is the question marks over whether there was element of “Brexit revenge by a Remoaner civil service” against a leading Brexiteer.

It is clear that the Raab saga is far from over whatever people’s reading of his guilt or otherwise.

Sympathy for him on the Tory backbenches though has swung his direction.

If the Prime Minister hoped a resignation could allow him to “move on” it has actually left far more questions about his own judgement and character than it has about Raab’s.

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