Rishi Sunak has been accused of “dither” as he delayed a decision over Dominic Raab’s fate after receiving the findings of an inquiry into whether the Deputy Prime Minister bullied officials.
Mr Raab has read the report handed to Downing Street on Thursday morning and maintains that he has not mistreated colleagues or broken the ministerial code, the PA news agency was told.
A source close to Mr Raab said the Prime Minister has not asked him to resign and denied the pair had held talks over his future.
But after Mr Sunak spent the day with the report it emerged no announcement would be made before Friday.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said: “While the Prime Minister dithers and delays, trying to summon up the guts to sack his own deputy, working people are battling the worst cost-of-living crisis for a generation – food bills and mortgage rates are rising, wages are stagnating, and too many of us are waiting months and even years for health treatment.
“While the Tories are yet again mired in chaos, Labour is focused on cutting the cost of living, cutting crime and cutting waiting lists with our long-term plan to give Britain its future back.”
“Imagine being a civil servant who has been brave enough to raise a complaint against the Deputy Prime Minister, sitting in a government department and you’re watching this farce play out live on television, not knowing what your fate is going to be about the complaints you have raised,” Mr Penman told PA.
“No-one knows what is going to happen now, there are no rules associated with any investigation, there are no rights for anyone who raises a complaint.”
The reasons behind the delay were unclear, but a No 10 source said Mr Sunak was “taking time to go through the report thoroughly”.
Downing Street could not say whether the report and the Prime Minister’s verdict would even be published on Friday.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “People will be fed up with this dither and delay from Rishi Sunak.
“It feels like almost every week there is an issue with sleaze and scandal where Rishi Sunak is either implicated himself or too weak to get to grips with it.
The eight complaints against Mr Raab centre on his behaviour as foreign secretary, Brexit secretary and during his first stint as justice secretary.
While there was no formal role for Mr Sunak’s ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus in the investigation, the Prime Minister could consult him before delivering his verdict on Mr Raab – although such conversations are usually kept private.
Sir Laurie had not been appointed as the independent adviser on ministers’ interests when the investigation into Mr Raab was launched.
Mr Sunak is the ultimate arbiter on issues around ministerial conduct and the final decision on his deputy Mr Raab will rest with him.
One person involved in the process described the review as “devastating”, while a senior Government official said Mr Raab was “toast”, according to the Financial Times.
The Guardian said senior Ministry of Justice officials could quit if Mr Raab, who is also Justice Secretary, is cleared of the allegations.
A decision not to sanction him would be “demoralising” for staff in the department, a source told the paper.
Mr Raab has insisted he believes “heart and soul” that he is not a bully and defended his “forthright” approach to his work.
The minister funded his own legal team to defend himself against the allegations, it emerged on Wednesday.
The declaration in the heavily delayed register of ministerial interests came despite taxpayers footing an estimated £222,000 bill for former prime minister Boris Johnson’s legal fees in the partygate inquiry into whether he lied to MPs.
Mr Tolley was appointed in November to lead the investigation into Mr Raab’s conduct but it is not known when Mr Raab first engaged legal representation.
Mr Raab remained at work on Thursday, responding to Crown Prosecution Service statistics on rape cases.
He issued a tweet and statement on the issue in his role as Justice Secretary.