Though previously a senior Minister of State, Dominic Raab is relatively unknown to voters. He has none the less been a feature of our Next Tory Leader panel for some time. Though he has never quite broken through into double figures, he has occasionally figured at the better end of single figures. The reasons have not been hard to clock. Strong views. Highly intelligent. Persuasive on telly. Good looks. With Priti Patel, he was our outside bet to get into the final two of a leadership contest against a more establishment set-up – a Michael Gove/Jeremy Hunt ticket, say. The judo enthusiast and former civil servant is also David Davis’s former Chief of Staff.
After January’s reshuffle, one view doing the rounds was that Theresa May was determined to keep out younger Ministers who might be a potential threat to her. Raab and Rory Stewart were the names that came up most frequently. We thought this was fanciful. The reason that neither made Cabinet was more likely to have been straightforward: the Prime Minister simply doesn’t dare sack anyone, thereby creating vacancies for new people to fill.
But the ambitious Raab was clearly frustrated, doubling up on housing at HCLG under Sajid Javid, who had developed a big interest in the subject. He will have grasped today, on being offered the DexEU post, Downing Street’s real intent. Having kept him waiting for so long, as he might see it, the Prime Minister suddenly needs him big-time. No sharper put-down of David Davis can be imagined than replacing him with his former Chief of Staff. No clearer signal could be sent that the Haltemprice and Howden MP is out on his own. And by pulling Raab up, May simultaneously, pushes Michael Gove and perhaps Sajid Javid down a bit, by bigging up a potential leadership rival. But behind these tactical wheezes, a strategic question looms: will Raab, or Olly Robbins, be master of the Government’s negotiation house?
Raab will know that the status gained by leaping straight into a senior Cabinet post will be offset, among harder-line Brexiteer MPs, by the kudos lost his by signing up to what they regard as a rotten plan. The calculation he will have made is that the gain is worth the loss – and, following this site’s own logic, that a bad Brexit is better than no Brexit at all. So he will settle behind his new desk with a mix of personal ambition and public duty sloshing around within his manly chest.
Raab has a bad history with May: she once slapped him down after he called feminists “obnoxious bigots”. But the past is another country. Here, in the present, she needs him – and he needs her. “Will you walk into my parlour?” said the Spider to the Fly, “Tis the prettiest little parlour that ever you did spy”. The new Brexit Secretary is wading into it with his eyes wide open. Meanwhile, poor old Housing, the Prime Minister’s “personal mission”, is on its third Minister this year.