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Who is Dominic Raab, the man running the country in Boris Johnson’s absence?

Dominic Raab is deputising for Boris Johnson while he battles coronavirus (PA)

6 min read

The rapid deterioration of Boris Johnson’s condition as he battles Covid-19 has thrust his de facto deputy Dominic Raab into the spotlight, but who is the man now effectively running the country?

The Foreign Secretary has enjoyed a swift rise to the top. Three years ago he wasn’t even in Cabinet, but the hard-Brexiteer, karate-loving 46-year-old former lawyer has long-been eyeing the top job.

Clearly he would not have wanted it this way, but he will be well-prepared to take on his boss’s responsibilities.

The son of a Czech-born Jewish refugee who fled the Nazis in 1938, Raab become involved in martial arts to help cope with the death of his father from cancer when he was just 12.

“Sport helped restore my confidence, and that hugely benefited my attitude to school and life”, he said last year.

Brought up in Buckinghamshire, he went to Dr Challoner’s Grammar School before studying law at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where he captained the university karate team and was a boxing blue, and then a Masters at Cambridge, winning the Clive Parry Prize for International Law.

He started his career as an international lawyer at Linklaters in the City, but was also seconded to the human rights NGO Liberty, and worked for one of the principal Palestinian negotiators of the Oslo peace accords.

In 2000 he joined the diplomatic service and was part of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office’s legal team, and it was there he met his now-wife Erika Ray, a Brazilian marketing executive.

The couple and their two sons, Peter and Joshua, live in Thames Ditton, Surrey.

In 2003 Raab was posted to The Hague and worked to bring war criminals like Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor to justice, and ended up defending Tony Blair from a subpoena by the former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milošević.

He caught the eye of Shadow Home Secretary David Davis, who poached him to be his chief of staff in 2006, and three years later he went to work for the then-Shadow Justice Secretary Dominic Grieve, but it soon became clear he was more on the DD wing of the Tory party when it came to the EU.

In 2010 he was elected to the safe Surrey commuter seat of Esher and Walton, but spent the first five years in Parliament on the backbenches, often finding himself at odds with Theresa May - who was then Home Secretary - on the issues of civil liberties.

After David Cameron’s general election victory in 2015, Raab was made a junior minister, and then played a prominent role in the Brexit campaign, but was sacked by Mrs May when she took over in the wake of the EU referendum.

She brought him back as a justice minister a year later, before promoting him to housing minister in January 2018.

He entered Cabinet in July that year after his old mentor Mr Davis quit as Brexit Secretary, but he followed suit after just four months later, saying "in good conscience" he could not support the Northern Irish backstop arrangement in Mrs May's deal.

Some accused him of only taking the role to help sabotage May and boost his career, something his supporters denied, but six months later he was in the running to replace her as PM after she agreed to stand down.

But he finished a disappointing sixth in the leadership contest, getting knocked out in the second ballot after only receiving the support of 30 Tory MPs.

In the following round the man who finished above him, Rory Stewart, lost 10 votes, prompting speculation Johnson’s team may have lent him votes to help eliminate his Brexiteer rival.

Nevertheless, he endorsed Boris as soon as he was eliminated, and seemed destined for a top job in his Cabinet after he defeated Jeremy Hunt in the final round of voting by Tory members.

But it was still a relative surprise to see him made Foreign Secretary, and also designated as First Secretary of State, placing him at the very top of the Cabinet rankings below the PM.

In the short time since he has struggled to make his mark in the FCO, and has faced criticism amid the transatlantic fall-out over the death of British teenager Harry Dunn, but is seen as extremely capable and unflappable, if somewhat of a hard taskmaster.

He has been dogged by accusations of bullying stemming from an incident in 2007, when an employee made a claim against him which went to an employment tribunal, and was settled confidentially.

After details were printed in 2011 by the Mail on Sunday he took the newspaper to court and it was forced to apologise, and last year he said of the incident: “I vigorously denied the claims, which were independently investigated and found to be unsubstantiated.

"The claim that I secured an injunction or any kind of ‘gagging’ order is false.”

He was also loosely entangled in a scandal when his diary secretary was found to have been selling sex on a ‘sugar daddy’ website in 2018, but the most damaging revelation about him from the story was that he eats the same lunch every single day from Pret a Manger.

Ever since then a chicken caesar and bacon baguette, superfruit pot and ‘vitamin volcano’ smoothie combination has been known as the ‘Dom Raab Special’ in Westminster circles, despite his denial he lacks variety in his mealtime habits.

And he has been involved in a few other embarrassing moments, after he said that he "hadn't quite understood the full extent" of how much UK trade relies on the Dover-Calais crossing, and later confusing the Irish Sea with the Red Sea at a select committee hearing.

His comments about feminists - calling them “obnoxious bigots” - have also drawn criticism, including from his old adversary Mrs May, who suggested it was “not the way forward”.

But the focus is a long way from that now as takes on his duties standing in for the PM in the coming days.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was quick to point out that Cabinet makes collective decisions, and that Mr Raab will not enjoy the untrammelled power a full-time PM might expect.

The comments were not all that surprising given the pair have a tricky relationship, after Mr Gove’s team blamed the Raab campaign for cocaine use scandal which derailed his own bid to be Tory leader.

The pair must now work closely together to help steer the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis and fill the void left by the PM, but the black-belt third dan is used to fighting his corner.

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