Dominic Raab behaved so badly in a meeting with the Home Office during his first stint as justice secretary that his department’s top official had to personally apologise to counterparts afterwards, the Guardian has been told.

Whitehall sources said the deputy prime minister, who is facing two official complaints over alleged bullying, had acted “so badly and inappropriately” at a high-level meeting earlier this year that the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was forced to call senior officials of the then home secretary, Priti Patel, to express regret.

One insider suggested the top MoJ official, Antonia Romeo, had taken the highly unusual step of apologising on her minister’s behalf to prevent the incident escalating into a formal complaint. However, it is unclear whether Raab was aware of her actions at the time.

Neither department denied that the apology call had taken place. An MoJ spokesperson said: “The Ministry of Justice works hand in glove with the Home Office and calls between officials to follow up cross-departmental meetings are standard procedure.”

Rishi Sunak has faced questions over his judgment in reappointing Raab as justice secretary after a series of allegations about his behaviour towards civil servants across three different departments, including the MoJ, the Foreign Office and the Brexit department.

The allegations about his “bullying” have now sparked calls for an investigation into the “toxic culture” at the Foreign Office while he oversaw the chaotic withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, similar to the review of the Home Office after the Windrush scandal.

The prime minister has backed his deputy but has agreed to set up an investigation into two formal complaints made against him by civil servants who worked with him at the Foreign Office and MoJ.

However, the inquiry is on hold until No 10 appoints an external figure to carry it out. Sunak is also under pressure to fill the independent ethics adviser post, vacant for five months. Raab has previously said he has “never tolerated bullying” and had “always sought to reinforce and empower” civil servants.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “Dominic Raab leaves a trail of senior officials forced to spend their time apologising for his toxic behaviour and reading him the riot act, instead of focusing on making Britons safe on our streets.

“This shameful incident shows his bad conduct is not only an embarrassment to the department he claims to lead but hindering the proper functioning of government.

“Rishi Sunak promised to bring integrity on the steps of the No 10, but now the deputy he reappointed is already facing an independent investigation into his conduct with a slew of revelations about his unacceptable behaviour casting a shadow over his government.”

The Guardian reported that his refusal to speak to some Foreign Office staff he considered “time-wasters” led to “blockages” during the Afghanistan evacuation, with staff at two departments he ran forced to take sick leave because of his alleged behaviour.

Sources claimed the deputy prime minister’s conduct compounded the chaotic exit of British forces during the Taliban’s takeover of Kabul in August 2021, which officials warned had been “costly” and caused “long-lasting” damage.

The allegations about Raab’s “bullying” behaviour have led to Labour calling for an investigation into the Foreign Office culture along the lines of the root and branch review of the Home Office carried out by Wendy Williams after the Windrush scandal.

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, said there appeared to have been a “deeper trend of toxicity, malfunction, bullying and declining morale” that may have been “damaging Britain’s influence on the global stage”.

He also cited an internal survey of the civil service which found the Foreign Office was ranked in the bottom three departments for leadership: “There are now serious questions to answer over whether allegedly bullying ministers have created a broader culture of toxicity in one of the great offices of state.

“Britain’s great diplomats deserve to have ministers who maintain highest standards and treat them with dignity and respect.

“As well as individual investigations into Raab that are already ongoing, the FCDO needs an independent review into its culture to learn the lessons of Tory failure, so that a department which once could boast that it was a model for diplomatic services around the world can do so again.”

New figures, obtained by the Guardian, also reveal that no officials working in the foreign secretary’s private office left the department in 2017-19, when Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt were in charge.

Raab ran the department from July 2019 until September 2021, and his tenure coincides with an uptick of departures: 24% in the 2019/20 financial year, 28% in 2020/21 and 12% in 2021/22. Allies have suggested that the departures were coincidental.

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