As Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab looked like somebody who had been promoted well beyond his ability and was struggling to justify this to himself, let alone the wider world. His stumbling over words, sweating and total confusion over simple matters such as the importance of the Channel ports would have ended most political careers. But Raab is a loyal supporter of extreme Brexit and has thus become our Foreign Secretary.
The EU negotiating team were not impressed by Raab, whose name is similar to the Dutch word for turnip (‘raap’) and thus offered a ready nickname. Even the Brexit-loving Telegraph wrote: ‘Brussels sources said that Mr Raab was not the fully-briefed details man or tough negotiator meting out home truths to the EU he claims to be in his Tory leadership campaign speeches.’ When Michel Barnier called his bluff over the Irish border issue, which continues to bedevil his government’s Brexit strategy, Raab is reported to have withdrawn his empty threats – and then boasted about his tough and uncompromising stance.
Raab’s management of his private office as an MP appears to have been equally shambolic, with five of his seven staff departing from it between July and November of 2018. Luckily, he is unlikely to be involved in ongoing negotiations.
But Raab is more dangerous than his farcical public performances suggest. In many ways he typifies the new breed of Tory minister, not least in his habit of moonlighting from his responsibilities as an elected politician in order to work for private interests in the form of murky and opaquely funded thinktanks. The IEA, in particular, has been a home from home, and Raab has credited it for its support in ‘waging the war of ideas‘. Some of these ideas are set out in his 2009 book The Assault on Liberty (launched at the IEA) and include policy suggestions such as severely curtailing workers’ rights and creating for-profit state schools.
Along with new Trade Secretary Liz Truss, Raab was in attendance when the IEA hosted the launch of ‘Freer’, a parliamentary lobby group with which the IEA shares staff and facilities. Freer’s membership includes both the current and the former chair of the ERG, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, as well as the minister in charge of No Deal planning, Michael Gove.
Raab appears to have little sense of the boundaries of democratic politics or of what responsible allies look like in a democracy. He was the only Tory leadership candidate to countenance forming a deal with Farage and the Brexit Party, telling Andrew Marr: ‘Look, I always listen to all sides of this debate, from Nigel Farage to others.’ When asked directly about a pact, he added: ‘That’s not what I would be aiming for’ but failed to rule out the possibility of such a far-right alliance.
He also made it an explicit part of his leadership bid to threaten the sovereignty of Parliament, despite such sovereignty being at the heart of the case he and his fellow Brexiters had made in 2016. Speaking to the Today programme, he said that the possibility of sidelining parliament to force through Brexit should not be ruled out, as to do so would weaken the UK’s negotiating position in Brussels. ‘I think it’s wrong to rule out any tool to make sure that we leave by the end of October’.
Raab has made a range of odious and retrogressive policy proposals, including scrapping all green subsidies, ending the minimum wage for under-21s, scrapping the Government Equalities Office, which he describes as ‘pointless’, and merging the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign Office. He has also not endeared himself to feminists by describing them as ‘obnoxious bigots’ and alleging that men suffer more discrimination than women – remarks that drew criticism even from Theresa May.
But it is his failure to understand that clear boundary between government and private lobbyists and his unwillingness to accept that the power of government depends on the consent of Parliament that make him an especially dangerous presence in the Cabinet of Horrors.