Dominic Raab, Britain’s foreign secretary, faces a fight for his political future this week after an upsurge in campaigning against the senior Conservative in his prosperous suburban seat south of London.
Thursday’s election became a battle for Mr Raab after the grieving family of a man killed in a road crash turned on the hardline pro-Brexit minister, angered at his failure to secure the return to the UK of an American diplomat who was driving the car that caused the fatal accident.
Mr Raab won the seat of Esher and Walton – long a Conservative stronghold – by a comfortable 23,000 votes in the last elections in 2017.
But his staunch anti-European Union views are at odds with residents who voted by 58 per cent to 42 per cent to remain in the European Union in a 2016 referendum.
A series of setbacks and his handling of the case of Harry Dunn, a 19-year-old Briton who was killed in a road accident involving the wife of a US diplomat, have cast a pall over his campaign and raised the prospect of him becoming the first sitting foreign secretary to lose his seat for 22 years. Current polls tip the minister to win but with a much-reduced majority.
The dead man’s father, Tim Dunn, travelled to an election question-and-answer session last month to try to speak with the minister. Mr Raab angrily rebuffed Mr Dunn outside the meeting and criticised him for the confrontation in front of assembled television cameras. “It’s not on,” he said as the doors of the venue were barred to the father.
“We feel he’s lied to us two or three times in meetings and in statements he’s made in the (House of) Commons,” Mr Dunn later told reporters. “And we feel that people should know how he really is as a gentleman and how he comes across to us as our family.”
Mr Dunn died in August after his motorcycle collided with a car driven by Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer, outside an airbase where he worked. She is suspected to have been driving on the wrong side of the road but left Britain before the police investigation was completed, to the outrage of many Britons.
The dead man’s parents met President Donald Trump at the White House, and he unsuccessfully tried to persuade them to meet with Ms Sacoolas.
The couple have since urged voters to dump Mr Raab as their MP and are taking legal action against the Foreign Office over their handling of the case. The issues for the sitting MP go wider than the Dunn case. A video showed Mr Raab cutting short one woman who wanted to discuss food bank charities that feed struggling families.
Mr Raab’s robust Brexit views of Britain’s top diplomat has alienated some of the party’s traditional supporters and strengthened the resolve of his opponents.
One constituent daubed “Raab Out, Dump Dom” on the side of his house and the previous holder of the seat, from Mr Raab’s own Conservative Party, has backed Mr Raab’s opponent from the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.
The film actor Hugh Grant – an anti-Brexit campaigner - entered the fray on Saturday and urged opponents of the Conservative party to join forces to defeat Mr Raab.
The campaign has already seen several small parties drop out from competing in an anti-Brexit effort to defeat Mr Raab and made him one of the most high-profile ruling party politicians facing the threat of losing his seat.
“He is not in any respect reflecting the views of his constituents,” said Annabel Mullin, the leader of Advance Together, a tiny anti-Conservative party that has candidates in only five of the 650 constituencies.
It has sent leaflets to all voters with a strong anti-Raab message saying “Not Wanted” across a mugshot of the minister. “On 12 December, sack Dominic Raab.”
Troubles in his backyard come at a time when Mr Raab’s career had been on the up. The trained solicitor was boosted by the election of prime minister Boris Johnson in 2019 and his “Get Brexit Done” policy that has framed the 2019 election debate. He was named as foreign secretary in July.
Now Mr Raab, 45, has been identified as the fifth most vulnerable cabinet minister according to one poll that said he was not in danger with an 11-point lead over his opponent. But another a week ago put the lead at just five percentage points.
Mr Raab himself said he was “not really” worried about losing his seat with polls showing the ruling Conservatives currently on track for an increased majority in parliament.