Dominic Raab has ostensibly taken over running the government as Boris Johnson fights the coronavirus in intensive care but it was unclear exactly how much power the 46-year-old foreign secretary would wield.
Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, declined to spell out on Tuesday whether Mr Raab, who as first secretary of state was the prime minister’s designated stand-in, would have the full executive functions.
“The prime minister always remains the prime minister,” Mr Gove told the BBC’s Today programme on Tuesday morning. Before being moved into intensive care, Mr Johnson had asked Mr Raab to formally deputise for him “where necessary” as he battled the coronavirus.
The foreign secretary has long-held ambitions to lead the Conservative party, but he looked visibly shocked on Monday evening after being asked to step in for the prime minister.
In last year’s Tory leadership race, he ran an anti-establishment campaign, promising to deliver a hard Brexit and a “fairer Britain”. This included a pledge to shut down parliament to prevent MPs from blocking a no-deal Brexit which ignited the race and drew fierce criticism from John Bercow, the then Speaker of the House of Commons. But he dropped out in the second round of the contest after finishing last with 30 votes.
Mr Raab, who is married with two children, is the son of a Czech-born Jewish father who came to Britain after fleeing the Nazis just before the outbreak of the second world war.
After studying law at Oxford university and gaining a masters at Cambridge, he worked at law firm Linklaters before joining the Foreign Office in 2000. He was dispatched to The Hague three years later, where he led a team focused on bringing war criminals to justice.
He left the department in 2006 to work as chief of staff to the then shadow home secretary David Davis, an established Eurosceptic.
In 2010, Mr Raab was elected MP for Esher and Walton, a seat he only narrowly held on to in last December’s election, with a much reduced majority of just 2,743.
In 2015, he was awarded his first ministerial job in David Cameron’s government after the Conservatives’ election victory. He became a junior justice minister but lasted little over a year, failing to secure a job under the new prime minister Theresa May following Mr Cameron’s resignation in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.
His political career was resurrected by Mrs May after the 2017 election, returning as a justice minister before moving on to the housing brief.
He was named Brexit secretary the following year but lasted less than four months in the job, resigning in November 2018 after saying he could not support the EU withdrawal agreement approved by cabinet.
Mr Raab, who has a black belt in karate, has a reputation for discipline. Aides say he tries to fit a run into every day that he is abroad as foreign secretary, and demands highly detailed briefings from his officials.
In his role as foreign secretary Mr Raab led the UK government’s response to the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by the US, as well as the diplomatic effort to repatriate hundreds of thousands of British nationals stranded abroad because of coronavirus.