It’s not an easy time to become Foreign Secretary, as Dominic Raab is about to find out. There is, of course, the crisis in relations with Iran, which threatens to escalate further in the coming days. Raab is taking over shortly after Jeremy Hunt announced a European-led mission to protect shipping in the Gulf, which may not necessarily accord with Boris Johnson’s own foreign policy instincts. One of the reasons that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was able to seize the British-flagged tanker was that Britain had turned down the US’s suggestion of co-operation to protect boats, for fear of appearing too cosy with Donald Trump. Johnson has no such qualms about working with the US President, something Freddy highlighted in his recent Spectator cover piece. There has also been a more general sense that the British government took its eye off the ball because there was no leadership in Theresa May’s final days and Hunt was distracted by the Tory contest.
The tanker crisis isn’t the only Iran-related policy problem, though. Johnson has been dogged throughout the leadership contest by questions about his handling of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case, and Hunt was able to differentiate from his predecessor at the Foreign Office largely by dint of holding meetings with her family and ensuring he got the details right. But she remains imprisoned.
Raab also needs to restore calm in the diplomatic service, which is in turmoil following the resignation of Sir Kim Darroch as UK Ambassador to Washington. The head of the UK diplomatic service Sir Simon McDonald told the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier this month that the leak leading to Sir Kim’s resignation had undermined the confidence of civil servants in the Foreign Office to speak candidly about foreign leader. There is also the matter of the leak inquiry into who passed the confidential cables containing Sir Kim’s views on Trump to journalists.
Being Foreign Secretary is normally about selling Britain to the world. But for Raab, a large part of his job to begin with will be concerned with selling the Johnson administration to his department.