There’s an old story told about former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher who took her cabinet out to dinner one time.
Picking up the menu and ordering, she said: “I’ll have the rib-eye, medium.”
“And the vegetables?” the waiter inquired.
“They’ll have the same.”
If a runner bean was nominated by the Conservative party to stand in the constituency of Esher and Walton, there’d be no shortage of vegetables around the cabinet table. The last time a non-Conservative candidate was elected in the constituency that’s in north Surrey and borders Greater London was back in 1906. Dominic Raab has been the Member of Parliament since 2010 for the area that also includes the famous racecourse of Sandown Park. As seats go, it’s probably the safest bet for any Conservative MP, not that there’s any danger anytime soon of the new Foreign Secretary losing his.
Raab, a 45-year-old former lawyer has long been considered one of the rising stars of the party. Double degrees from Oxford and Cambridge in law have only added to his credentials as does a thorough academic background in international law, perhaps inspired by the fact his father was a Jew persecuted and forced to flee Czechoslovakia in 1938 as the Nazis grew in influence and territory in the period leading up to the Second World War.
Raab is a the product of a mixed marriage, one where his mother insisted on a Christian education for the couple’s siblings. Indeed, Raab has volunteered in Palestine and the Occupied Territories and has written extensively against Israeli colonisation policies and the occupation regime’s treatment of Palestine. He did work too for one of the architects of the Oslo Peace Accords. Whether that sentiment translates into official Foreign Office policies remains to be seen, and right now Raab is pre-occupied with events unfolding in the Arabian Gulf as a result of Iranian aggression.
Without doubt, Raab has been handed one of the toughest portfolios in the new Boris Johnson cabinet, with an ‘In’ tray filled with pressing files.
First and foremost, Raab must somehow convince the other 27 members of the European Union of Johnson’s determination to leave the economic, political and social bloc come October 31 — with or without a deal. While the risks of a so-called “hard Brexit” — with no formal arrangement or agreement on divorce terms after 46 years of marriage — are well catalogued, Johnson is determined that the UK will leave on Halloween. It’s up to Raab to explain the wisdom of that to the other 27 — and most other nations as well.
Raab must also very quickly come to terms with the pressing matters in the Arabian Gulf and beyond, where Iranian policies and piracy have resulted in chaos. It’s one thing to want to leave the EU, another to have to reach out to allies such as France and ask for their support in protecting tankers transiting in waters in and around the Strait of Hormuz.
Then there that’s issue of Hong Kong, the former UK colony now racked by civil disturbance in the fallout of a stall Extradition Bill for its citizens to mainland China.
Raab represents one of the legacy veto powers at the United Nations Security Council, as does China. Around that table too are Russia, a nation the UK accuses of using Cold War-era nerve agents to poison a dissident and his daughter, and kill a British citizen in the process.
Then there’s the question of just how far and how fast should a UK free of its EU ties come November 1 — if Johnson is indeed to be believed as a man of his word — move towards the White House. President Donald Trump says he has a warm relationship with the new Prime Minister. Raab will be well aware that if you cosy up to an elephant, you’re only going to get squashed.
First and foremost, Raab must somehow convince the other 27 members of the European Union of Johnson’s determination to leave the economic, political and social bloc come October 31 — with or without a deal
David Davis, the former minister in the cabinet of Theresa May hand-picked to negotiate a withdrawal deal with Brussels, tapped Raab, then Housing Secretary, as his assistant three years ago. Davis like to boast that his time as a reservist in the elite Special Air Service prepared him for the tough negotiations to come with Brussels. He liked too that Raab has a black belt in Karate.
In 2000, when Raab worked as a lawyer in the Foreign Office, his briefs included the European Union and bringing accused war criminals to trail at the international courts of justice at The Hague. There, he defended former UK prime minister Tony Blair from a subpoena brought by former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic.
If there is a blot on this rising star’s copybook, it came from a sting operation carried out by the Brit tabloid The Daily Mirror. Perhaps the most memorable thing from the episode involving his then 20-year-old diary secretary was that he supposedly ordered the very same thing for lunch each day — a chicken Caesar and bacon baguette and a fruit pot washed down by a “Vitamin Volcano” smoothie.
Mick O’Reilly is the Gulf News Foreign Correspondent based in Europe.