London, United Kingdom – Since UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was hospitalised in intensive care on Monday after failing to shake persistent coronavirus symptoms, Dominic Raab, the 46-year-old foreign secretary, has been at the helm of government.
But while Raab is in charge as Johnson is incapacitated, Johnson officially remains prime minister.
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The UK does not have a clear chain of succession as to who takes over the prime minister’s role due to its unwritten constitution. Raab also holds the title of first secretary of state, which implies seniority over all other ministers except the prime minister – meaning the role of leading government falls to him.
The son of a Czech Jewish father who fled the Nazis in 1938, Raab is married to a Brazilian marketing executive with whom he has two children.
He studied law at Oxford University and received a Master’s degree at Cambridge, after which he began his career as an international lawyer at Linklaters, a prestigious “magic circle” legal firm.
In 2000, he joined the Foreign Office.
Three years later, he led a team at The Hague dedicated to bringing war criminals to justice, including Slobodan Milosevic and Radovan Karadzic.
He has been a Member of Parliament for Esher and Walton in the southeast of the UK since 2010, when he was first elected.
A staunch Brexiteer who supported the “Vote Leave” campaign, Raab served as Brexit secretary under ex-prime minister Theresa May’s government from July 2018, until he resigned a few months into the role following disagreements over her draft withdrawal bill.
He unsuccessfully ran against Johnson for leadership of the Conservative Party in 2019, finishing last with only 30 votes.
What does his voting record tell us?
Raab has consistently voted for reduced spending on welfare benefits in the UK.
On foreign policy and defence, he has voted for the use of UK military forces in overseas operations and for military action against ISIL.
Though he has generally voted for LGBT rights, he has also voted against laws that promote equality and human rights.
On home affairs, he has voted for the stronger enforcement of immigration controls, and has generally voted against measures to prevent climate change.
What do Britons think about him?
In a column on Raab’s appointment, Katy Balls, deputy political editor of The Spectator, wrote that there was “never really any doubt” Raab would be the de facto stand-in for Johnson.
He was “trusted by both the Prime Minister and No 10 aides”, she said, because of his stance on the Brexit campaign which “appeared more hardline” than Johnson himself.
But Dr Maryyum Mehmood, an academic at the Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion in Birmingham, said many Britons lack trust in him.
“Raab lacks the trust of the masses, which is absolutely imperative in the current chaotic moment. He’s perhaps one of the most inexperienced, some would even argue ill-equipped, to lead, especially in this time of global crisis. Many in the corridors of power – both in the opposition and among his own party – are, rightly, questioning his competence,” she said.
“In a time in which our nation requires greater inclusivity and social harmony, and a leader who is emblematic of this, some in government and politics are rather worried, given Raab’s past track record.”
According to a recent YouGov poll, 30 percent of Britons had a negative opinion of him, compared with just 13 percent who thought more positively.
If Raab becomes incapacitated, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is next in line to lead the government.
“Following a recent address to the nation, his public approval fell,” said Mehmood. “This, of course, is in comparison to the likeability of Sunak, which has soared of late.”
Raab is no stranger to courting controversy.
In 2011, he wrote an article for the Politics Home website, where he described feminists as “obnoxious bigots” and lamented over the “flagrant discrimination against men”.
Responding to his comments, Theresa May accused him of fuelling “gender warfare”.
In 2017, Raab dismissed a disabled woman on live television who said thousands of sick and disabled people were impacted by the Conservative Party’s austerity cuts to health and social care, describing increased funding as a “childish wish list”.
In the same interview, he rejected concerns over poverty and food bank usage, 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.”