In Depth

Dominic Raab: the new de facto leader’s credentials

Foreign Secretary is deputising for the Prime Minister with Boris Johnson in intensive care

Dominic Raab has been asked to deputise for the hospitalised Boris Johnson, who was moved to intensive care last night as his coronavirus symptoms worsened. 

The foreign secretary and first secretary of state will take over the responsibilities of prime minister “where necessary”, a No. 10 spokesperson said.

Last month, the prime minister’s spokesman said if Johnson became unwell and was unable to work then Raab would stand in.

So what are the 46-year-old’s credentials, and how might the UK’s response to the coronavirus outbreak look under his guidance?

Who is Dominic Raab?

Raab was born in Buckinghamshire to a Czech-born Jewish father who came to Britain in 1938 as a refugee, according to The Sunday Times.

He studied law at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, and for a master’s at Cambridge, winning the Clive Parry Prize for International Law before starting his career as a business lawyer at City law firm Linklaters. He also spent time on secondments at Liberty, the human rights NGO, and in Brussels advising on European Union and World Trade Organization (WTO) law, the government website says.

“Dominic later worked at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] between 2000 and 2006 on a range of issues from investor protection to war crimes policy,” the site adds.

As a lawyer at the FCO, Raab was the lead on a team focusing on bringing war criminals to justice at The Hague, says the BBC.

He became MP for Esher and Walton, a safe Tory seat, in 2010, and has served in government since after the 2015 election, initially working in the Ministry of Justice before moving to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in January 2018.

In 2017, Raab was described as “offensive” by the then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron after saying “the typical user of a food bank is not someone that’s languishing in poverty; it’s someone who has a cash flow problem”.

The prominent Brexiteer was promoted to secretary of state for Leaving the European Union in July 2018, a post he held until November 2018, when he resigned over his disapproval of Theresa May’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.

Raab “famously received a slap down from [May] in 2011 in her role as minister for women and equalities”, after he labelled feminists “obnoxious bigots”, the New Statesman reports.

He ran in the race to succeed her as Tory party leader last summer, but was eliminated in the second ballot of Conservative MPs and endorsed Boris Johnson for the job.

Johnson subsequently named him foreign secretary and first secretary of state, effectively deputy prime minister, in July 2019.

He is married to Brazil-born Erika, a former Google marketing executive, with whom he has two sons. He reportedly holds a black belt third Dan in karate and is a regular boxer. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––For a round-up of the most important stories from around the world - and a concise, refreshing and balanced take on the week’s news agenda - try The Week magazine. Start your trial subscription today –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––

What is he like as foreign secretary and first secretary of state?

Raab’s role has given him “an international profile surpassed only by Mr Johnson’s, in terms of the UK government”, says the BBC.

As an influential Brexiteer and strong voice in cabinet, he will take some of the credit for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU earlier this year, nearly four years after the country voted to leave the bloc.

In 2018, Raab told The Andrew Marr Show that the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi was a “terrible case”, but the government would not end its relationship with Saudi Arabia, citing “not just the huge number of British jobs that depend on it, but also because if you exert influence over your partners you need to be able to talk to them”.

Raab stood in for Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions on 2 October 2019, in his role as first secretary of state, where “both his voice and his safety-first approach to answering questions betrayed a hint of nervousness”, says the BBC.

In January this year, Raab backed the US assassination of the high-level Iranian general, Qasem Soleimani, which heightened existing tensions between the two countries.

He cited the US “right to self-defence” and said the UK government had “always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force”.

What will he be like in charge?

The opportunity to act as de facto prime minister is one Raab “would relish, under normal circumstances”, says the BBC.

Before Johnson’s move to intensive care on Monday evening, Raab stressed that the prime minister had been continuing to run the government from hospital, but he had not spoken to him since Saturday.

The foreign secretary arrived at No. 10 this morning and is chairing the government’s daily Covid-19 meeting.

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, said this morning that the cabinet would continue to “meet collectively every morning” under Raab.

“Normally it is the prime minister that chairs, but yesterday and today it will be Dominic Raab who chairs a meeting in which ministers are brought together, and officials and also the government’s chief medical officer and chief scientific adviser,” the Express reports Gove as saying.

“We have an opportunity to review the data and see what the progress of the disease is telling us about how successful the measures that we’ve put in place have been.

“And then we review the work that needs to go on in order to support the NHS, in order to keep public services going, in order to keep our economy in a strong position.”


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