James Forsyth James Forsyth

‘Let prisoners work’: an interview with Dominic Raab

Whitehall is still adjusting to the government reshuffle. When I enter Dominic Raab’s new office and start to look around, he immediately points out that the art on the walls is not his choice but that of his predecessor. He was shifted from Foreign Secretary to Justice Secretary, a move widely seen as a demotion, only a couple of weeks ago. Decoration, he says, has not been his priority. The only personal objects in his office are family photographs.

Raab seems full of nervous energy, but when he speaks about his family story he is more considered. He talks matter-of-factly about how his Czech father survived in a refugee camp in Tangiers in 1938 by eating off the floor. He then moved to Britain, worked for Marks & Spencer and built a new life. ‘He became very patriotic,’ he says. ‘Almost more pro-British than a native-born Brit. And I was always instilled with those values.’

Raab says his definition of ‘global Britain’ includes a country that can do more for refugees because borders are once again under national control. ‘When I went through Heathrow with my [Brazilian] wife in the early days before she was naturalised, you see the queue of white Europeans going through one lane and I would look at the other lane,’ he says. ‘You think of all the Commonwealth partners, the Asian partners, Latin American partners. There was something I used to find quite jarring about that.’

Last year, when China’s new security law crushed liberty in Hong Kong, Raab — as foreign secretary — offered UK citizenship to the five million holders of ‘British National Overseas’ status and their dependents. ‘It was quite telling when you thought about the decision makers around the cabinet table. You just realised there were quite a lot of the children of immigrants who take a pretty standard conservative approach to immigration in general, but also felt we need to live up to the big-hearted tradition of this country.’

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