Dominic Raab: Karate kid, with a Jewish father, in the UK Brexit hotseat

Raab jumps straight into the job from the junior ministerial ranks — a sign of embattled PM May’s faith in his ability to handle talks before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019

Britain's new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street after it was announced he was appointed to the job in London, July 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
Britain's new Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab leaves 10 Downing Street after it was announced he was appointed to the job in London, July 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON (AFP) — Britain’s new Brexit minister Dominic Raab is an ardent eurosceptic from a new wave of up-and-coming Conservatives who have quickly climbed the ministerial ladder.

The new secretary of state for exiting the European Union might also prove useful in a Brexit scrap with Brussels: he holds a black belt third Dan in karate and is a regular boxer.

The 44-year-old was charged with handling the UK’s impending exit on Monday after David Davis — his old mentor — quit over Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal to adopt EU rules on goods after Brexit.

Raab jumps straight into a heavyweight Cabinet job from the junior ministerial ranks — a mark of May’s confidence in his ability to handle the sharp end of deliberations before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

Britain’s former chief Brexit negotiator David Davis poses in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, following his resignation as Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, on July 9, 2018. (Stefan Rousseau/PA via AP)

Raab is among the ambitious younger Conservatives who have entered parliament over the last decade that are now knocking on the Cabinet door.

He lists his core convictions as lower taxes, slashing bureaucracy, spreading free speech, putting terrorists under surveillance, creating “more ladders of opportunity” and strengthening local democracy.

‘Tough and clear-thinking’

His Czech-born Jewish father came to Britain in 1938 as a refugee, aged six. He died of cancer when Raab was 12. His mother brought him up in the Church of England.

Raab read law at the University of Oxford then gained a master’s degree from the University of Cambridge.

He was an international lawyer at legal firm Linklaters in London before joining the Foreign Office in 2000 as an advisor.

In 2003, he was posted to The Hague to head a team focused on bringing war criminals to justice, including Slobodan Milosevic, Radovan Karadzic and Charles Taylor.

From 2006 to 2008, he worked as chief of staff to Davis when he was the center-right Conservatives’ home affairs spokesman in opposition.

A demonstrator holds a placard during a protest against the pro-Brexit outcome of the UK’s referendum on the European Union, in central London on June 25, 2016. (AFP/JUSTIN TALLIS)

Davis, a former special forces reservist, said he hired Raab partly due to his athlete’s discipline.

“Dominic is very loyal,” The Sunday Times quoted him as saying in 2014.

“He’s very tough and clear-thinking. You can’t intimidate him.”

“I’ll look on like a proud parent bird at my eagle fledgling. I’d go into battle for him if he needed it. If he’s tipped for great things, that’s as it should be.”

When Davis quit as the shadow home secretary — his highest-profile walkout until Monday — Raab became chief of staff for the party’s then-justice spokesman Dominic Grieve, who is now the arch-Remainer rebel on the government’s backbenches.

Raab then entered parliament in 2010 in the ultra-safe Conservative seat of Esher and Walton in the stockbroker commuter belt southwest of London.

Backbencher on the rise

He was the 2011 “Newcomer of the Year” in The Spectator magazine’s Parliamentary Awards.

The same year, May, then the interior minister, slapped Raab down for calling feminists “obnoxious bigots.”

In 2014 he caused major problems for May and prime minister David Cameron, with a backbench amendment on curbing the power of judges to block deportations under European rights laws.

Nearly 100 Conservatives backed him and he made his mark as an up-and-coming force to be reckoned with.

This file photo taken on July 11, 2016 shows British Prime Minister David Cameron address the media outside 10 Downing Street in London, after announcing that Theresa May would be Britain’s new leader. (AFP PHOTO / CHRIS J RATCLIFFE)

Cameron put Raab on the most junior government rung in the justice ministry in 2015, but he dropped off when May became prime minister in 2016 following the EU referendum.

He joined the parliamentary committee scrutinising the work of the Brexit ministry and holding it to account.

Keen to freshen up the government with some younger faces, May made him the junior minister for courts and justice in June 2017.

She moved him across to become the junior housing minister in January.

His 20-year-old diary secretary was suspended in April after being accused of selling sex online on a “sugar daddies” website.

Raab dismissed the newspaper sting, which revealed what he liked for lunch, as a “storm in a teacup.”

Raab is married to Erika Rey-Raab, a Brazilian marketing executive. They have two young sons: Peter and Joshua.

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