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Will Raab be forced to resign over bullying allegations (update)?

Mike McCartney

21st March 2023

A good example of whether the doctrine of Individual Ministerial Responsibility remains an important component of the UK's uncodified constitution

In what must be the longest inquiry into whether the doctrine has been broken, Dominic Raab, the Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, faces claims that he abused his position by bullying staff.

A reminder of the constitutional aspect....

  • A feature of parliamentary government is that the executive is drawn from the legislature and according to the constitution is directly answerable to it. The ministerial 'highway code' is laid out in the ministerial code of conduct, which is issued to all ministers.
  • A personal mistake is by far the most common reason for ministers to resign, but some ministers weather the media storm better than others. In the 1990s it seemed like the Tories had set up a ministerial resignation production line (Mellor, Mates, Yeo, Brown, Hughes, Aitken), but after New Labour took office it quickly became apparent that being whiter than white was a promise that would be difficult to fulfil. In 1998 the Welsh Secretary, Ron Davies, resigned after a ‘moment of madness’ on Clapham Common. Under the Con-Lib coalition, Treasury Minister David Laws was first to fall on his sword following revelations about claiming housing expenses while sharing a house with his male partner.
  • It is very rare for a minister to resign as a result of an error of policy or administration, but we can point to the resignation of Estelle Morris over the A levels fiasco in 2002 as an example. But one that has hardly set a precedent.

Then the actual politics of ministerial resignations begin to muddy the waters. It is far more likely that ministers will cling on to jobs, until the level of sustained media pressure is such that it is untenable for the Prime Minister to provide their backing. So, the principle of IMR can be seen as something of a constitutional fiction. IMR is described as a 'convention' in textbooks, but surely a convention, by a dictionary definition, is something that most people expect to happen. This leads us to ask whether IMR still a convention, or something that used to be a convention and perhaps needs to be relabelled.

With regards to Raab, we have to bear in mind that allegations first surfaced in November of last year. So this must be some sort of record for serious questions to be hanging over a Secretary of State and whether they should remain in post. On the one hand, you could argue that it is unfair to expect a minister to resign when an investigation has not come to its conclusion. But, equally, when we consider that Raab's department is, as stated on the MoJ's own website, a major government department at the hear of the justice system, we could ask whether in the face of such serious allegations, and individual can the job the focus it deserves.

On that note, the latest allegations, broadcast on Sky News, don't paint a very favourable picture. From the Sky website: Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab repeatedly reduced staff to tears and "ruined people's lives" through "coercive behaviour", according to officials who worked with him.

Mike McCartney

Mike is an experienced A-Level Politics teacher, author and examiner.

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