Dominic Raab chosen as first secretary of state because he was rock solid on Brexit

Owl finds interesting local connections to Dominic Raab, First Secretary of State, now deputising for Boris Johnson.

One of the prominent backers for his leadership bid for the Conservative Party was Sir Hugo Swire MP. And Swire’s replacement as Conservative candidate for the Devon East constituency, Simon Jupp, joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2019 as a Special Advisor to Dominic Raab when he was the First Secretary of State and Foreign Secretary.

Connections, connections,

Steven Swinford, Lucy Fisher, Oliver Wright 

Dominic Raab was made first secretary of state by Boris Johnson because he offered his “unconditional” support during the Tory leadership contest and was considered “rock solid” on Brexit.

Mr Raab was Mr Johnson’s main Eurosceptic rival during the contest in June last year but was eliminated in the second round of voting. On the evening of his elimination he told Mr Johnson that he had his full support and made clear that he was not asking for any cabinet job in exchange for his backing.

Mr Johnson also believed that Mr Raab was “rock solid” on Brexit and would take Britain out of the EU if he became incapacitated.

By contrast, Michael Gove, who was knocked out in the penultimate round of voting, did not directly endorse Mr Johnson. He said instead that both Mr Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the final two candidates, would make “great prime ministers”.

“Boris liked the way he just came right out and backed him,” an ally of Mr Johnson said of the foreign secretary. “Dom is also popular with the Vote Leave crew who are in Downing Street.

“There’s also another reason: Dom is rock solid on Brexit. The thinking was that if someone had to take on the prime minister’s role they had to be clear on Brexit.”

Mr Johnson also distrusted Mr Gove after he sabotaged his campaign for the Conservative leadership in 2016. “Boris never fully forgave Michael Gove for betraying him in 2016. The question was more how Michael ended up with such a senior cabinet position. It is a credit to him that he got so much, given what had happened before.”

Mr Raab’s role deputising for Mr Johnson caps a remarkable ascent. The father of two, 46, who is married to a Brazilian marketing executive called Erika, has just one year of cabinet experience behind him.

A former lawyer, he was an adviser to David Davis while the Conservatives were in opposition before becoming an MP himself in 2010. He holds a black belt in karate and is a former member of the British squad for the martial art.

Mr Raab has said that karate helped him cope with the premature death of his father, Peter, who fled to Britain from Czechoslovakia at the age of six to escape the Nazis. Mr Raab was only 12 when his father died of cancer.

“Sport helped restore my confidence, and that hugely benefited my attitude to school and life,” he said last year. “There were strong role models, camaraderie and an ethos of respect. I take the discipline and focus I learnt from sport into my professional life.”

One political aide who has worked with him said that his background had shaped his politics. “On the one hand he is a typical bright suburban grammar school kid. But he doesn’t come from a background of loads of money, and graft means a lot to him.”

Within Westminster, however, Mr Raab has developed a reputation for being cold or even abrupt. Unlike Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, he is not particularly “clubbable” and is seen as a hard taskmaster.

A former diary secretary was secretly recorded by a newspaper in 2018 saying that Mr Raab was “difficult” to work for, “dismissive of women” and demanded exactly the same lunch every day from Pret a Manger.

“He needs loosening up. He’s very uptight,” she told the Mirror. “He has the same baguette with the same smoothie with a pot of fruit everyday. It’s the Dom Raab Special.”

Another former staff member said that the characterisation was unfair. “I’ve never thought of him as cold and in private away from the office he is a totally different person,” they said. “If he is going to a meeting he expects everyone to . . . know what they are talking about. If it’s clear that they don’t he’s not afraid to cancel the meeting and say let’s do this again when we know what’s going on. Some people take that as cold, but it’s not.”

His new position is likely to lead to tensions with other senior ministers, and Mr Gove in particular.

Early in his career Mr Raab was seen as politically close to Mr Gove, now the minister for the Cabinet Office, for whom he worked as a junior minister in the justice department during David Cameron’s premiership.

They were on the same side in the Vote Leave referendum, and in its aftermath Mr Raab switched his support in the 2016 Tory leadership race to Mr Gove after Mr Johnson dropped out.

But relations between the two were damaged in the campaign last year to replace Theresa May when Mr Gove suspected that one of Mr Raab’s aides had leaked details of his cocaine “confession”, which derailed his campaign.

“It would be fair to say that they are no longer the best of friends,” said one senior Tory who knows them both. “But I think they both know they need to work together.”


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