Dominic Raab has refused to say he would lift a nondisclosure agreement he entered into as part of a settlement with a woman former colleague.
BuzzFeed News asked the Tory leadership candidate directly if he would be willing to release the woman from the confidentiality provisions after one of his most high-profile supporters, MP Maria Miller, told the BBC that the claims of bullying made against him were “vexatious”.
Miller, who is the the chair of Parliament's women and equalities committee, made the comments during an interview about the findings of a report by her committee that criticised the use of nondisclosure agreements to cover up complaints of discrimination and harassment in the workplace.
Raab, the former Brexit secretary, was asked to respond with a yes or no to whether he would be happy to lift the confidentiality agreement, which was contracted in 2007 and was at the centre of a libel case in 2012, if the other parties agreed too — but he did not directly address the question.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Raab told BuzzFeed News: "The right time for the confidentiality obligations to be lifted on both sides for a fair and balanced airing of the dispute was before the court back in 2012."
Echoing his previous remarks on the subject, Raab told BuzzFeed News that “any accusations of bullying, harassment or any other impropriety on my part are completely false”.
The existence of the agreement means that the woman is unable to respond to Miller's and Raab’s comments.
Raab tweeted Monday night that it was important that candidates for the highest office face scrutiny.
On Tuesday, Miller, who introduced Raab at his leadership launch Monday, said NDAs were having a "destructive effect on people's lives".
"After signing an NDA, many individuals find it difficult to work in the same sector again," she said.
"Some suffer emotional and psychological damage as a result of their experiences, which can affect their ability to work and move on."
Asked on the BBC’s Today programme whether it was appropriate to endorse someone who had entered into an NDA over a claim of bullying, Miller said that Raab had been “forced” to use the agreement to deal with “vexatious” allegations.
She told the programme: “I think Dominic Raab’s case is an excellent example of where people can be forced into signing NDAs when they don’t particularly want to do that.
“It was used to try to allow the case to be settled as opposed to a thorough investigation, and as it was shown [with] Dominic Raab there were no issues there at all and the case had been brought vexatiously.”
Miller told BuzzFeed News she had not seen the contents of the confidentiality agreement nor discussed it with any of the parties. Miller added that she had described the claims as “vexatious” because she had read in a Sunday Times article that they had been denied by Raab’s team.
In 2007, while Raab was working as chief of staff to Tory MP David Davis, the two men entered into a “compromise agreement” with a woman who had worked in their office.
According to publicly available court documents, the woman received a sum “in consideration for the confidentiality obligations” she agreed with Raab and Davis.
In 2011, the Mail on Sunday newspaper published a story referring to the confidentiality agreement and making a series of allegations against Raab, who by then was a Tory MP.
He strenuously denied the allegations and sued the newspaper for libel. The paper settled, apologised, and paid Raab a five-figure sum.
Raab told BuzzFeed News: “In 2007, in a previous role before I became an MP, I was subject to a claim of bullying. I vigorously denied the claims, which were independently investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.
“My employer decided to settle the case on confidential terms (as is common in employment disputes), to avoid the distraction of defending it before a tribunal. I signed the compromise agreement, although in practice I had no choice over the decision, and I did not pay anything towards the settlement,” he said.
Raab’s spokesperson reiterated that the claims had been “independently reviewed and found to be unsubstantiated”. Asked by BuzzFeed News to clarify the nature of this review, he said it was an “independent HR review set up by the [Conservative] party”.
The contents of the confidentiality agreement have never been released. Raab, Davis, and the woman remain bound by the terms of the arrangement.
The existence of the agreement has become an issue in the Tory leadership contest, with opposition politicians raising questions about Raab’s position on NDAs.
In his emailed statement on Tuesday, Raab said: “In 2011, a tabloid newspaper published malicious and vexatious allegations relating to the dispute. I sued the newspaper in libel.
“In 2012, they settled my claim, paid compensation and printed an unequivocal apology, which recognised that the allegations they publicised were ‘unfounded’. The claim that I secured an injunction or any kind of ‘gagging' order is false.
“In fact, I sued the newspaper in question precisely so that the confidentiality obligations on both sides could be lifted under the oversight of the court, to allow the facts of the case to be heard in a fair and balanced way — rather than one side giving a selective, skewed and partisan account.”
During the libel action with the Mail on Sunday, Raab’s lawyers repeatedly wrote to the woman reminding her that she was still bound by the terms of the confidentiality agreement.
Raab did not specifically address how his claim to have wanted the confidentiality agreement to be lifted at the time squared with his lawyers’ letters during the case.
According to the court documents, on May 27, 2011, Raab’s lawyers wrote to the woman, named in the documents as "E", saying they were “concerned” she had “supplied” information to the Mail on Sunday and so breached the confidentiality agreement.
Court documents show the woman replied to Raab’s lawyer on June 10, 2011, insisting she had neither spoken to the paper nor breached the agreement.
On Sept. 23, 2011, Raab’s lawyers wrote to the woman again explaining the “consequences” of breaking the confidentiality agreement included her “at the very least” having to repay the money she received when she signed it.
“You are of course free to change your mind about this matter, but under the settlement agreement (which you freely entered into with the benefit of your own independent legal advice) a decision to breach the terms of the confidentiality obligations will carry certain consequences,” his lawyers wrote.
“If, however, it is your intention to breach the confidentiality obligations unilaterally by speaking to the Mail on Sunday … then it is likely at the very least that you will be required to repay the sum you were paid in consideration for the confidentiality obligations,” they said.
In another letter on Nov. 21, 2011, Raab’s lawyers told the woman: "Dominic Raab attributes proper importance and respect to the confidentiality clauses in the agreement with your client. They are not to be breached lightly.”
Explaining that if the woman breached the terms of the confidentiality agreement, Raab would have no option but to do so too in order to defend himself, his lawyers warned: “It should not be torn up lightly.”
In December 2011, Mr Justice Tugendhat ruled in favour of Raab and declined to order the disclosure of a witness statement by the woman. He found there was no evidence the woman had been “gagged”.
The woman known as "E" in the court documents did not respond to a request for comment.
BuzzFeed News has also approached David Davis, who is a party to the same confidentiality agreement, for comment. He had not responded by the time of publication.