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Dominic Raab is the smug figurehead for our descent into dystopian Britain

The justice secretary is disturbingly dead set on scrapping the human rights act, weakening our liberties in the process.

23 Aug 2022

Just hours before Boris Johnson’s government began crumbling around him – kicked off by the wily resignations of the chancellor and health secretary – Dominic Raab was on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in the midst of an excruciating interview. The deputy prime minister was grilled over allegations of sexual misconduct made against Chris Pincher, the former deputy chief whip, favourably appointed by the prime minister himself in February 2022. 

This was the final scandal (for now, at least) that Johnson found himself unable to weasel out of. After Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid scurried off to save their own skins, Johnson saw a mass exodus of ministers all doing the same thing. Only a few sleazy loyalists stayed behind, and Raab was one of them.

Before the rats fled the ship, or before the sinking ship fled the rat (as Keir Starmer put it), Raab refused to recognise Pincher as guilty, despite a 2019 investigation that upheld the sexual misconduct complaint in question. Incredibly, Raab, who straddles numerous big-shot titles – one being the justice secretary – argued that, while the complaint was found to be “substantiated”, ‘guilty’ was a “loaded term”. 

It’s frightening that the justice secretary holds a hazy definition of guilty; yet alarm bells really ring when the same minister proposes a new law, the Bill of Rights, that replaces our fundamental human rights in the UK. Our liberties are seemingly becoming as blurred as Raab’s poor understanding of basic principles. 

Replacing the UK’s Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) has been a long-term ambition for Raab. You might recall that footage which showed a younger but equally sinister Raab claiming, “I don’t support the Human Rights Act, and I don’t believe in economic and social rights,” at the beginning of his 12-year mission to scrap the act.

Raab was busy in the early 2010s. The then recently elected MP published several books, all dealing with the human rights “contagion” here in Britain, as one of his book synopses sourly puts it. In his 2009 publication The Assault on Liberty: What Went Wrong with Rights, Raab argues that the only way out of this problem is to ‘release’ Britain from the European Court’s ‘attack’ on Britons (the act incorporates the rights outlined in the European Convention on Human Rights into British law). 

“Replacing the UK’s Human Rights Act has been a long-term ambition for Raab”

Clearly eager to see his plan in action, after five years on the back benches Raab rose up the ranks, eventually becoming Brexit secretary in 2017. However, after a short stint in post, Raab resigned, reeling against Theresa May’s Brexit plans. The avid Brexiteer flopped in the role – some described him as Brexit secretary in “name only”, as Raab appeared to not understand some key responsibilities, like the importance of cross-Channel trade. After a failed attempt at leadership, Raab continued to ascend to power, becoming second in command under Johnson who, similarly to Raab, regards Britain’s commitment to the ECHR with ominous flippancy.

Unsurprisingly, under Johnson’s tyrannical legislative agenda Raab’s proposed bill was rocketed through Parliamentary processes – without incorporating recommendations from human rights experts and skipping pre-legislative scrutiny in the process. Far from a welcome reception, the bill – also referred to as the “rights removal bill” – has been widely criticised. In August, special rapporteurs to the UN high commissioner for human rights released a letter critiquing the bill, outlining concerns around the relationship between the UK and European courts and parliament. Raab instantly rejected the human rights experts’ criticisms, claiming they’re based on “flawed understanding”. Raab’s bill is cunningly innocuous in its claims to replace the HRA with “common sense” measures, some of which it implies the HRA is currently blocking or eroding, such as the right to jury trial – even though we already have that right.

The bill’s real insidious nature is only a small scratch away from its surface of woolly, populist language. Raab’s authoritarian agenda – characteristic of this current government – is clear. By making it harder to claim the human right to family life, the bill aims to make deportations easier. In his press release, Raab explicitly states that those specific measures from the European Court used to prevent the first deportation flight to Rwanda (which the UN labelled unlawful) will no longer be binding in UK courts. 

In an attempt to wrangle the bill even remotely beneficial, Labour MP Stella Creasy is pushing to enshrine the right to abortion in law by proposing it be included in the Bill of Rights. Currrently, under the 1967 Abortion Act, abortion is framed as an exception, determined by the agreement of two doctors. Unsurprisingly, Raab – who labelled feminists “obnoxious bigots” – is not keen on Creasey’s proposed amendment, stating the matter is already “settled in UK law”. It isn’t.

Raab has proven he’s cut from the same pompous cloth as the other Tory cabinet members (or what’s left of them) by managing to ascend to power despite a myriad of blunders, lies, arrogance and outright negligence. 

Only recently, Raab struggled to understand the meaning of misogyny, denigrated the symbolism of taking the knee and, in classic Tory fashion, labelled the complexities of poverty a “cash-flow problem”. 

As justice secretary, he’s failing to address the concerns of criminal barristers – who are in the midst of strike action around legal aid funding – and refused to speak to the Criminal Bar Association for almost a year over these issues. A recent leaked report also suggests he’s planning on restricting judges’ powers which may make it harder to bring successful legal challenges against the government in England and Wales.

When he headed the foreign office, his concern for overseas affairs, like, say, the collapse of the Afghan government, was limited to say the least. The Taliban’s advance on Kabul seemed to be no more important to him than catching a sun tan in Crete. Eventually adding his two-cents on the issue, he lamented that “no one saw this coming”.

Despite facing calls to resign after the latter blunder, Raab hobbled on, applying the same blasé attitude when ‘clarifying’ the number of people in hospital suffering from the omicron variant by plucking a number out of thin air. His other stints on covid include his misjudged defence of the Downing Street lockdown parties, and when questioned on his failings or in a bid to defend his sore ego, he resorts to swearing at journalists and mocking other ministers.

The absurdities of the past months, like Johnson clinging on for dear life despite calls to resign, and the emptying of the Cabinet, leaves little shock that Raab has been entrusted by this shambolic government with replacing our fundamental human rights. Our descent into dystopian Britain is well underway, and Raab, with his ruinous bill in tow, is the smug figurehead.

This piece is a part of gal-dem’s Bad Politicians series.

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