Dominic Raab is facing a much wider bullying investigation than originally anticipated, with at least 24 civil servants involved in formal complaints against him, the Guardian understands.

Sources inside the government believe that the depth of the investigation and the seriousness of some of the claims would have meant a struggle to survive as deputy prime minister, further casting doubt on Rishi Sunak’s judgment in keeping him in such a senior position.

The Prime Minister is under siege on a separate front over Conservative Party chairman Nadim Zahavi’s tax affairs, with pressure mounting on him to take decisive action despite ongoing scrutiny from senior Tories and the opposition.

Downing Street confirmed in December that the justice secretary was facing eight formal complaints about alleged bullying, six of them from her first tenure at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), one when she was foreign secretary and another when she ran the Brexit department. .

However, sources said all but two of the formal complaints involved multiple accusers believed to have been submitted by private office staff from her first level in the department. The total number of complainants is estimated to be at least two dozen, and could be more than 30, the source claims.

The Guardian understands Sunak personally read parts of several written statements submitted as part of the initial tranche of complaints before ordering an investigation by Adam Tolly KC into possible breaches of the ministerial code.

The deputy prime minister, who remains in office while the investigation continues, has vowed to “thoroughly refute and refute” the formal complaints. He has said he is confident he “acted professionally” throughout his time in three different cabinet posts.

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However, the latest claims will come as another blow as he tries to move on from the scandal. Raab faces potentially damaging allegations of bullying behavior when dealing with civil servants, including some in senior roles, in which he “humiliated and insulted” them and was “very rude and aggressive” on multiple occasions each day.

Officials close to the inquiry were said to be shocked by some of the claims, including being physically ill before the meeting, regularly shedding tears and in more than one case feeling suicidal due to the alleged behaviour.

The investigation, which began in December, is expected to conclude within weeks after the team holds lengthy sessions with the complainants. He will be interviewed by Raab, who will be able to consult with lawyers before and after, although interviewees are not allowed to bring along legal representation.

Downing Street has rejected suggestions Sunak is aiming to complete the Raab inquiry at the same time as Zahawi’s ethics inquiry – so that both ministers can be sacked on the same day as part of a mini-shuffle to deflect attention – pointing out. Those inquiries are on a separate schedule.

However, Tory MPs are privately concerned that the Prime Minister’s handling of the two ranks could undermine his commitment to instilling “integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level” of his government as he tries to move the party on from the Boris Johnson era.

The Guardian first revealed in November last year that senior MoJ civil servants had been offered “leave or exit” from the department after Raab was reappointed by Sunak, with Liz Truss sacked from the role, amid concerns. Shocked by his behavior in the previous tenure there.

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MoJ Permanent Secretary Antonia Romeo spoke to Raab when he returned to the department to warn him that he must treat staff professionally and with respect, according to sources.

The Observer revealed that concerns were raised about Raab’s behavior towards officials within Whitehall as Brexit secretary in 2018, with a document outlining “expressions of grave concern” sent to the Cabinet Office by a senior former department official.

Days later, the Guardian reported that Raab had been warned by the department’s top civil servant about his behavior towards officials during his time as foreign secretary, who then informally reported his concerns to the Cabinet Office’s propriety and ethics team.

The Deputy Prime Minister claimed in an interview with ITV that “no one has complained or complained to me”. But Simon Macdonald, the permanent secretary of the Foreign Office at the time, later refused to deny that he had spoken to Raab and agreed that it was fair to characterize him as a “threat”.

An MoJ spokesman said: “There is zero tolerance for bullying in the civil service. The Deputy Prime Minister leads a professional department, pushing forward major reforms, where civil servants are valued and the level of ambition is high.

“There is an independent investigation underway and it would be inappropriate to comment further on matters relating to this until it is completed.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman added: “The investigation by the Adams Casey team is ongoing so it would be inappropriate to comment further while this process is ongoing.”

  • In the UK and Ireland, Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123, or by emailing [email protected] or [email protected] In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In Australia, the crisis support service is Lifeline 13 11 14. Other international helplines can be found here. befrienders.org.

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