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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Marina Hyde

Dominic Raab may have the most terrible record in government, but at least it’s perfectly formatted

Dominic Raab at 10 Downing Street, London, 6 December 2022
Dominic Raab at 10 Downing Street, London, 6 December 2022. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

I want to begin this column with an apology. When Dominic Raab and his forehead vein first throbbed into the public consciousness as one of the many Brexit secretaries during Theresa May’s rolling malfunction of an administration, I note I simply regarded him as the sort of “tightly wound” white-collar loner who owned a number of lockups with chest freezers at whose contents one could only shudderingly guess. What was I thinking? Merely, I guess, that Raab would one day be played by Jonny Lee Miller in a three-star ITV psychological thriller called Something Wicked This Way Comes. That now feels naive to the point of twee. It has this week been placed on the record that Dominic Raab is in fact the sort of man whose obsession with correctly formatted documents left his officials being told that “people had died” during the UK’s chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan last year.

Back then, Raab was foreign secretary. He is now back at justice, after Brandon Lewis found the resolution to the barristers’ strike that had eluded Raab, during the 27-minute Liz Truss interregnum. Has Dominic’s return to the department been met with bouquets and tearful euphoria? In short, no, although I believe there have been tears. He is now the subject of a formal inquiry into multiple accusations of bullying across the three departments in which he has held cabinet roles – a great look for a man recently restored to the position of deputy prime minister as part of Rishi Sunak’s alleged cabinet of all the sensibles.

As for what this perfectly formatted monstrosity’s self-styled “work ethic” has actually achieved in those departments, just a quick recap. We’ve dealt with his non-achievements at justice; do recall he resigned as Brexit secretary over the deal he himself had negotiated following a tenure in which he publicly admitted to never having read the Good Friday agreement. As Raab sniffed to the Northern Ireland affairs committee: “It’s not like a novel, you sit down and say, ‘Do you know what, over the holidays, this is a cracking read.’” I mean, it’s 36 pages? You’re the Brexit secretary?

Then again, maybe the Good Friday agreement wasn’t correctly formatted, which should certainly induce an enduring sense of failure in all those involved in getting it over the line. The rest of his tenure at DExEU was a journey of remarkable discovery. “I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this,” he breezed at one point, “but if you look at the UK and how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.” Amazing.

But it was at the FO that our hero would plumb his true depths. He crystallised the only-way-is-down trend of British high office, somehow achieving what once seemed the impossible: being a worse foreign secretary than Boris Johnson. As mentioned, this week it emerged that justice department officials had been told that “people had died” during the Afghanistan evacuation because of the then-foreign secretary’s refusal to review documents that, of all abominations, did not meet his exacting formatting standards. This feels like a particularly psychopathic version of that thing where a child plays with the box the present came in because its actual contents are too advanced for him.

By way of a reminder, Raab was one of the authors of seminal text-of-our-times Britannia Unchained. Among many and various other lowlights, Britannia Unchained bemoaned British laziness. Very bold. Raab was so low-profile for most of his FO tenure that I assumed he’d been furloughed. His big test – and wow, was it a big one – was Afghanistan.

You will remember he distinguished himself by failing to return from his holiday to deal with the historic crisis. A holder of one of the great offices of state in a government that was at the time hectoring everyone else to return to their offices was literally phoning in his Afghanistan response from a Cretan beach hotel that advertises itself as the natural domain of “the privileged and perceptive”. Which in his case was only half right.

Raab took issue with the backlash. “The stuff about me paddleboarding – nonsense,” he told an interviewer following his belated return. “The sea was actually closed – it was a red notice.” Grimly hilarious to defend what one of your own senior MPs had already called “the biggest foreign policy failure since Suez” with granular detail on that day’s swimming advice in your luxury resort. A less robust denial came moments later when he was asked whether he had, in fact, rejected critical documents on the basis of format. As Raab cavilled: “That’s not quite right.” This week’s allegations would suggest it was not only right but in fact much worse. But back then Raab was honking: “I make no apology for saying I needed the clear facts for each case presented precisely so that we can make swift decisions.” I’m sure we’ve all seen many instances of the “I-make-no-apology-for” device out there in the wild, but this is surely its final form. Sorry Dominic, but no. MAKE AN APOLOGY FOR IT.

Then again, where would you even start? This week’s horribly clarifying revelations come hot on the heels of the discovery that not a single Afghan affiliated with the British government has been accepted and evacuated under the Home Office resettlement scheme, almost a year after it was launched. Those who survive face torture and death; many have already lost their lives. And it feels impossible to escape the conclusion that this is what we do now in “global Britain”. A government – or series of governments; one loses track – that lies to its own people will obviously think nothing of doing the same to the people of whom the UK made use overseas.

We made promises to those who served us, then let them down in the most borderline homicidal way possible, while Johnson spaffed out some disgraceful bollocks about the shambolic exit being “one of the outstanding military achievements of the last 50 years”. History is already laughing mirthlessly at him; the foreign affairs committee concluded that “the manner of our withdrawal from Afghanistan was a disaster and a betrayal of our allies that will damage the UK’s interests for years to come”.

Yet the caravan has moved on. This utterly shameful moment came in the middle of so many other shameful moments that it has somehow contrived to fade into the general background of shame that has characterised the past few years at home and abroad. Of course it wouldn’t be a disqualifying blot on Dominic Raab’s record. Of course he would survive. Of course he would be made deputy prime minister again. Of course, of course, of course. It’s all just a matter of course now, until the public finally decides this epochal shower of self-motivated incompetents have run theirs.

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