London (AFP) – Britain’s new Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is a karate-loving hardcore eurosceptic who has rapidly chopped his way to the top of British politics.
Raab had a rocky three months as Britain’s Brexit minister last year, quitting in November saying Theresa May’s doomed divorce deal offered Brussels too many concessions.
During his stint, Raab went viral on social media for admitting that he “hadn’t quite understood” the economic importance of the port in Dover — which handles 17 percent of Britain’s entire international trade.
But new Prime Minister Boris Johnson catapulted him straight back into government on Wednesday as foreign minister and first secretary of state — a title implying seniority over all other ministers bar Johnson himself.
Raab, 45, is an ambitious smooth talker who holds a black belt in karate and is a regular boxer.
His most pressing challenge will be handling a tense stand-off with Iran, which seized a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf.
– High ambitions –
Raab ran for the Conservative leadership last month and was seen as a potential threat to Johnson if he reached the last two run-off decided by party members, due to his even more strident pro-Brexit views.
Raab ended up coming sixth and his campaign never really gathered momentum, stuck in rows over past views on militant feminism and his preparedness to suspend parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.
His spell in the Brexit ministry also floundered.
Needing a firm eurosceptic to front in the job, prime minister May turned to Raab — but at the same time put a senior civil servant in charge of leading the Brexit negotiations.
It was a personal and political frustration, leaving Raab unable to stop the flawed plan May settled on. He quit in protest.
– Tragedy as a youngster –
In his leadership campaign, Raab made much of his back-story.
His Czech-born Jewish father came to Britain in 1938 as a refugee, aged six. He died of cancer when Raab was 12. His mother brought him up in the Church of England.
He competed in karate for 17 years, making the UK squad.
Raab read law at the University of Oxford then gained a Master’s degree from the University of Cambridge.
He was an international lawyer at legal firm Linklaters in London before joining the Foreign Office in 2000 as an advisor.
In 2003, he was posted to The Hague to head a team focused on bringing war criminals to justice, including Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor.
From 2006 to 2008, he worked as chief of staff to David Davis, who was then the Conservatives’ home affairs spokesman in opposition.
– Climbing the greasy pole –
Raab entered parliament in 2010 in the ultra-safe Conservative seat of Esher and Walton in the stockbroker commuter belt southwest of London.
He was the 2011 “Newcomer of the Year” in The Spectator magazine’s Parliamentary Awards.
The same year, May, then interior minister, slapped Raab down for calling feminists “obnoxious bigots”.
In 2014 he caused major problems for prime minister David Cameron, with a backbench amendment on curbing the power of judges to block deportations under European rights laws.
Nearly 100 Conservatives supported him, thereby marking him out as an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.
Cameron put Raab on the most junior government rung in the justice ministry in 2015, but he dropped off when May became prime minister in 2016.
Keen to freshen up the government with some younger faces a year later, May made him the junior minister for courts and justice.
She moved him across to become the junior housing minister in January 2018 then bumped him up to the Brexit job six months later.
Raab denied claims by his former diary secretary that he insists on the same lunch every day, allegedly a chicken and bacon sandwich, a smoothie and a mixed fruit pot.
Raab is married to Erika Rey-Raab, a Brazilian marketing executive. They have two young sons, Peter and Joshua.