LONDON — With Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an intensive care unit with covid-19, the British government and its response to the coronavirus crisis is being led by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, a Johnson loyalist with a markedly different style than his boss.
Now, that means Raab, 46, is chairing national security meetings and daily covid-19 teleconferences.
Raab is known to be extremely faithful to Johnson, which may explain why he was tapped. Even as he was assuming the leadership role, Raab was keen to stress that he would focus on implementing Johnson’s directives.
“There’s an incredibly strong team spirit behind the prime minister,” Raab told the BBC late Monday. He said that the team was “making sure that we get all of the plans the prime minister’s instructed us to deliver to get them implemented as soon as possible.”
Raab ran against Johnson in last summer’s Conservative Party leadership race, pitching himself as someone who would deliver Brexit without “bluff and bluster.” But his campaign never really took off, and after he was knocked out of the race, he moved quickly to back Johnson.
Whereas the prime minister is a flamboyant, informal, confident — some might say overconfident — politician who for years has been known to Britons on a first-name basis, Raab is “the driest Thatcherite in the Cabinet,” said Steven Fielding, a political expert at the University of Nottingham.
Fielding questioned whether Raab’s communication skills were up to the job at a moment Britain is looking for strong leadership.
“He sweats an incredible amount, and, whatever the reason, it’s not a good look if you’re looking for reassurance,” Fielding said. Raab repeatedly dabbed his face during one much-commented-on speech in 2018, when he was Britain’s Brexit secretary. “Sweaty Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab feels the heat,” ran a headline in the Daily Mail.
He has his fans, too. Stewart Jackson, a former Conservative lawmaker, wrote in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday that Raab may be an “anti-Boris,” but he’s also “clever, self-assured and even tempered yet also cautious, managerial, unsentimental and taciturn.”
“It’s only in the white heat of this international crisis that the attributes of this serious and competent politician will be really tested and where Dominic Raab can and will excel,” Jackson wrote.
Raab was raised in Buckinghamshire and studied law at Oxford and then Cambridge. He has spoken movingly about his father, a Czechoslovakia-born Jewish refugee who settled in Britain in 1938 at age six. Most of his father’s family, Raab said, were “systematically murdered for no other reason than they were Jews.”
In 2010, he was elected to Parliament in an ultra-safe Conservative seat in Surrey, a county close to London where he lives with his wife and their two sons. He quickly became known as a rising star in the Conservative Party, attracting attention for his productivity, competency on foreign policy, and for writing a book, along with four other Conservative lawmakers, about their vision for the party. In 2011, he won “Newcomer of the Year” at the Spectator magazine’s parliamentary awards.
That same year, Raab clashed with Theresa May over his views on feminism — he accused feminists of “obnoxious bigotry.” Still, as prime minister in 2018, May gave him his first cabinet position.
Raab’s stint as Brexit secretary was a short one. He was widely criticized by pro-European Union figures for saying he “hadn’t quite understood” how reliant Britain’s trade was on the Dover-Calais crossing. which connects Britain to France. He resigned after four months, saying he could not support the concessions that were being made.
When Johnson became prime minister, Raab was back at the top table, this time as foreign secretary, one of the four “great offices of state.”
Fielding said many of Britain’s big decisions about its coronavirus response — the lockdown restrictions, the testing targets, the ordering of ventilators — had been made, and that, for the short-term, “it’s a question of making sure those decisions are applied.”
“Britain can do without a prime ministerial figure for a few days,” he said. “If it’s a question of a month, then certain decisions will have to be made.”
Michael Gove, a senior Conservative politician who some people see as Johnson’s No. 2, told ITV that decisions about lifting Britain’s social distancing restrictions would be made collectively as a cabinet, but that, ultimately, the final decision-maker was now the foreign secretary.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot. New federal data shows adults who received the updated shots cut their risk of being hospitalized with covid-19 by 50 percent. Here’s guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.
New covid variant: The XBB.1.5 variant is a highly transmissible descendant of omicron that is now estimated to cause about half of new infections in the country. We answered some frequently asked questions about the bivalent booster shots.
Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.
Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.
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