Boris Johnson’s Cabinet: Who are the internationally-facing Ministers?

Britain’s change of Prime Minister has brought with it a total change of the four internationally-facing cabinet Ministers: Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has changed from Jeremy Hunt to Dominic Raab; Liam Fox has been replaced in his role of Secretary of State for International Trade by Liz Truss; Alok Sharma has replaced Rory Stewart as Secretary of State for International Development; and Ben Wallace is the new Secretary of State for Defence, replacing Penny Mourdant. Who are these new Ministers, and what does their appointment mean for Britain’s foreign policy? 

Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs: Dominic Raab

MP for Esher and Walton since 2010, Dominic Raab was Brexit Secretary until November 2018 when he resigned in disagreement with the draft Withdrawal Agreement. Before entering Parliament, Raab worked as a lawyer at the Foreign Office. Here, he worked on a number of issues: bringing war criminals to justice in The Hague, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the EU, and Gibraltar. 

What we know:

Raab has consistently voted for the use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, and has generally voted against more EU integration, becoming a vocal supporter of ‘No Deal’ since his resignation as Brexit Secretary. Raab was the first to suggest the controversial prorogation of Parliament in order to push no deal through the house, during his own bid to become Conservative Party leader.

In terms of his style as Foreign Secretary, Raab has spoken in favour of merging the Department for International Development into the Foreign Office, calling for a “spending review…cut down the number of Whitehall departments, cut the bureaucracy”. Raab’s own foreign policy expertise has been questioned in the past, as he appeared to confuse the Red and Irish seas when discussing trade barriers with Europe, admitted he hadn’t read the Good Friday agreement from start to finish, and revealed that he “hadn’t quite understood” the importance of Britain’s trading relationship with France and the Dover-Calais crossing. 

What we predict:

Raab will face a number of immediate challenges as Foreign Secretary, most notably the crisis in relations with Iran, which threatens to escalate further in the coming days. A staunch supporter of Israel, Raab might be tempted to take a hard line on Iran. In terms of longer-term questions in the Middle East, such as the UK’s relationship with Saudi Arabia, and the Arab-Israeli conflict, Raab is likely to take a ‘realpolitik’ approach. He told Andrew Marr in 2017, following the murder of Jamal Khasoggi, that we should not terminate relations with Saudi Arabia because of ‘the huge number of British jobs that depend on it but also because if you exert influence over your partners you need to be able to talk to them’. 

Based on other statements, including his declaration that he does not believe in ‘economic and social rights’, it is likely that Raab will generally favour this realist attitude over a liberalist projection of British values. On Trump, Raab has said ‘he’s been a contentious figure but if you want strong relationships between the people of this country and the people of the United States, if we want to get from the back of the queue to the front of the queue for a trade deal, I think it’s good to have warm relations’. Raab may well prioritise repairing the UK-US relationship, damaged since the leak of US Ambassador Sir Kim Darroch’s memos. 

From Raab, we can expect a tack towards realpolitik and a strengthening of Britain’s alliances in order to boost our international standing and trade, regardless of the confrontation this may present to British values.

Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Trade Board: Liz Truss

Previously second-in-command at the Treasury, Truss has also served as Environment Secretary before taking on her current role. Before becoming an MP in 2010, Truss served as Deputy Director of the Reform think tank. 

What we know:

Along with Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and two other Conservative MPs, Liz Truss authored the 2012 booklet ‘Britannia Unchained: Global Lessons for Growth and Prosperity’, that described Britons as ‘among the worst idlers in the world’, placing her towards the right of the Conservative Party. Truss has consistently voted for the use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, against investigations into the Iraq War, and against more EU integration prior to the 2016 EU referendum. 

What we predict:

Truss may tend towards a ‘Britain First’ approach to international trade. In a speech to the Conservative Party conference in 2014, Truss claimed it was ‘a disgrace’ that the UK imports two thirds of its cheese, two thirds of its apples, and three quarters of its pears. Truss may well pursue a more protectionist stance, favoured by the US, to protect British industry and products. Her writing of ‘Britannia Unchained’, which advocated for a relaxation of labour laws, suggests international trade negotiations are unlikely to expand beyond the core matters of trade.

Secretary of State for International Development: Alok Sharma

Previously a chartered accountant, Sharma became an MP in 2010. Sharma was born in India and moved to Reading with his parents when he was five. 

What we know:

Having campaigned to remain in the European Union, Sharma has since said he would be prepared to leave the EU with no deal if it “proved impossible” to negotiate a new one before 31st October. Sharma has consistently voted for the use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas, and voted against investigations into the Iraq War.

What we predict:

Sharma is one of Boris Johnson’s lesser-known promotions to the Cabinet, so his actions as International Development Secretary are difficult to predict. On his appointment to the position, Sharma said he will work with the Department to ‘make sure UK aid is tackling global challenges that affect us all, such as climate change, disease and humanitarian disasters’. He spoke in favour of continuing to invest 0.7% of GNI on international development to show ‘we are an enterprising, outward-looking and truly global Britain that is fully engaged with the world’.  This suggests he is likely to pursue a continuation of Rory Stewart’s work in DfID of prioritising global challenges of climate change and humanitarian disasters. 

Secretary of State for Defence of the United Kingdom: Ben Wallace

An MP since 2005, Wallace previously served as a member of the Scottish Parliament following an eight-year stint in the army. He trained at Sandhurst before joining the Scots Guards as a platoon commander. During his time in the Army, Wallace served in Northern Ireland, Germany, Cyprus and Central America.

What we know:

Wallace was previously the Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime before taking on the position of Secretary of State for Defence. Wallace campaigned to remain in the EU, and has warned that a no-deal Brexit would hit UK-EU security ties and will have a “real impact” on protecting the public.  Wallace has consistently voted for the use of UK forces in combat operations overseas, including airstrikes against the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. He voted against the requiring of UN conditions to be filled out before any military action in response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria. 

What we predict:

Wallace, alongside Raab, will have to immediately begin work on the Iran crisis. His time in the Army may well have given him a realist perspective of crises, and an appreciation of the importance of a strategic approach, thus he may proceed with caution. Wallace may also be responsible for implementing Johnson’s campaign pledge to protect military veterans from prosecutions, something that has gained increasing traction following the decision to charge Soldier F in relation to the killing of two protesters on Bloody Sunday. Given his voting record Wallace is likely to support this action. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the BFPG. The BFPG is an independent not for profit organisation that encourages constructive, informed and considered opinions without taking an institutional position on any issue.
Flora Holmes

Flora Holmes is a Researcher at the British Foreign Policy Group.