LONDON — In picking his stand-in, Boris Johnson has chosen a Brexit-believer and former rival — but not someone likely to change course.
Last year, when Brexit dominated British politics, Johnson appointed his Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab as first secretary of state, a largely ceremonial position that denotes seniority over the rest of the Cabinet in the absence of a formal position of deputy prime minister.
Before being moved to intensive care on Monday evening amid worsening coronavirus symptoms, the U.K. prime minister reiterated his faith in Raab by asking the foreign secretary to deputize “where necessary” in his absence.
According to half a dozen current and former colleagues of the man now tasked with steering Britain’s coronavirus strategy, the 46-year-old former lawyer will be a forensic stand-in for the prime minister, albeit one who sometimes lacks charm.
Raab, who backed Johnson for prime minister after a short-lived bid for the top job himself, is loved by Brexiteers, though has relatively limited experience at the top of government.
A wooden media performer, Raab also causes some to worry that what they see as his political naiveté might mean he struggles to sell the government’s plan to the public.
“He made the most cogent case for Brexit of those currently in Cabinet, that is what annoys his enemies,” according to a former Cabinet minister who has worked with Raab, who, like most of those interviewed for this piece spoke on condition of anonymity.
Both current and former colleagues point to Raab’s attention to detail.