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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C

'One of the loudest voices against an indefinite backstop': What's Dominic Raab up to?

From his review of the Good Friday Agreement to sparring with Irish journalists on Twitter, it’s been an interesting week for Mr Raab.

SENIOR TORY MP Dominic Raab made headlines in Ireland and in the UK this week over comments he made about the Good Friday Agreement and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

During an appearance before a House of Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee – scheduled for the day after 317 MPs voted in favour of removing the backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement – the former Brexit Secretary answered questions about Brexit negotiations, relations with the Irish government and the backstop.

He alleged that the Leo Varadkar inaccurately leaked secret details of a private meeting between Raab and Tánaiste Simon Coveney to the media, referring to reports which appeared in the Telegraph.

Those reports, which were picked up by other news outlets, claimed that Raab had asked Coveney during the meeting whether the backstop could be limited to just three months. This was in stark contrast with Irish and EU desires for an “all-weather” backstop.

“The Irish position remains consistent and very clear⁩ that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by Ireland or the EU,” Coveney responded at the time. “These ideas are not backstops at all and don’t deliver on previous UK commitments.”

Brexit PA Dominic Raab sits next to Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley. PA

Raab also came under fire, shortly after he resigned as Brexit Secretary in November, for admitting that he “hadn’t quite understood” how reliant UK trade is on the Dover-Calais crossing, which is the land bridge between England and France.

During the Northern Ireland committee appearance, he was also asked “what is next for Dominic Raab?” – a question aimed at revealing what are suspected to be Tory leadership ambitions.

“I don’t think in fairness, I matter very much,” he replied.

Raab, MP

The son of a Czech-born Jewish father (who came to Britain as a refugee) Raab was first elected as an MP in 2010.

During his first bout in parliament, the then-35-year-old voiced support for more visible policing in his local constituency; fought for a review of ‘positive discrimination’ rules being applied in work experience schemes, and won Newcomer of the year at The Spectator magazine’s Parliamentary Awards (2011).

He served as parliamentary under-secretary to the then-Secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove in 2015, and played a prominent role in the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.

After the 2017 election, in which Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority and began a coalition with the DUP, Raab was made Minister of State for Courts and Justice.

Raab succeeded David Davis as Brexit Secretary on 9 July 2018. Davis had resigned in protest over the direction British Prime Minister Theresa May was taking Brexit negotiations.

He said he was opposed to a common rulebook to allow free trade in goods, saying this “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense”.

I am also unpersuaded that our negotiating approach will not just lead to further demands for concessions.

Four months later in November 2018, Raab resigned as Brexit Secretary along with three other ministers.

His resignation came after the Chequers meeting, which was an attempt by Theresa May to discipline her increasingly dissenting Cabinet ministers. 

I cannot reconcile the terms of the proposed deal with the promises we made to the country in our manifesto… I must resign.

In the aftermath of his resignation, he was criticised for resigning over the final Brexit deal, which he was in charge of negotiating on behalf of the UK government.

Raab and the backstop

In a Financial Times article, Raab was described as “one of the strongest voices against an indefinite backstop”. He has claimed that EU negotiator Michel Barnier has told him that it was possible to renegotiate the backstop but that it was a question of political will to do so: it became a case of finding “a ladder for the Irish government to climb down”.

This week, during a session of voting for amendments to Theresa May’s deal, Raab voted in favour of the Brady amendment, which looks for the backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” that aren’t specified or agreed.

He told the Commons committee that although he was Brexit Secretary, certain parts of the deal had been agreed when he took up the post, and he couldn’t start from scratch.

Speaking about the backstop, Raab said that he thought ‘the sunset clause’, or an exit clause was “an eminently sensible proposal” and said that these were the ways of finding a compromise on the border issue:

There’s three ways of dealing with it: you either change the entire paradigm so you don’t have a legislative alignment approach; you have an operation- and technology-based approach; or you limit through time or an exit mechanism, the legislative alignment application.

“And what was clear to me, was that in Dublin – I don’t want to get into their domestic politics – but politically, they’re taking a very firm line on a deadline.”

Raab went on to say that the Irish government took “a trenchant line on the backstop”, and that it was in “a very difficult position now” blaming it on the “particularly strong political position taken by the Taoiseach”.

He went on to claim that the Taoiseach had leaked a private meeting between Raab and Coveney to the media:

The conversation I had with him was leaked to the media in terms which were not factually accurate, in terms of the proposal that I had put forward, privately and confidentiality at his request.
And it was leaked in an inaccurate and misrepresenting way by the Taoiseach directly.

Brexit PA Wire / PA Images PA Wire / PA Images / PA Images

Coveney’s advisor described Raab’s comment’s as “pure spoof”, saying that the Daily Telegraph would hardly be the first port for call for the Irish government.

In a bizarre exchange on Twitter, Raab’s account responded to a comment from Irish Times journalist Harry McGee and asked:

…why did Mr Varadkar claim that I had put forward a three-month backstop? Surely, he would have checked the leaked report in the Telegraph with Simon Coveney who knows that was not what I asked them to consider.

Another journalist, Virgin Media One’s political correspondent Gavan Reilly, responded to Raab to say he was the reporter who asked Varadkar about the three-month time limit.

“I was the reporter that morning that asked Varadkar to comment on the reports. He didn’t himself say the UK had proposed a ‘three-month’ expiry. The reports did, prompting my question.”

Having been the Brexit Secretary for a time, and having strong views on the backstop, Raab was also criticised for not having read the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in full, saying that he’s used it as “a reference tool” during Brexit negotiations, but that it isn’t “a cracking read”.

It’s not like a novel, you sit down, say ‘Do you know what’, over the holidays ‘This is a cracking read’.

The Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement is 35 pages long, and can be found here.

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