Shropshire Star

Raab comes to town to outline his vision for future

Dominic Raab waits in the foyer of Beaconsfield Conservative Club in Shrewsbury, opposite a photograph of Theresa May, and next to pictures of Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, John Major and David Cameron. Will his picture soon be joining them?

Dominic Raab, centre, with Ludlow MP Philip Dunne, Councillor Dean Carroll, Shrewsbury and Atcham MP Daniel Kawczynski, and Councillor Peter Nutting

According to some bookmakers, Mr Raab is second-favourite to become the next Conservative leader. It would be a meteoric rise for someone who was only appointed to the cabinet last summer, and whose tenure as Brexit secretary lasted for four months and six days. But his uncompromising stance on the European Union and his commitment to deregulation has won him many supporters on the right of the Conservative Party. His ideological purity and youthful looks have led many to see him as the future of Conservatives. His resignation from government has probably left him largely untainted by the shenanigans behind Mrs May's Brexit deal.

He is in town, with Shropshire MPs Daniel Kawczynski and Philip Dunne, to outline his vision for the future of the Conservative Party.

"My belief is the Government should have negotiated more robustly with the European Union," he says, referring to the so-called backstop arrangement, which would see Northern Ireland tied indefinitely into a customs union with the EU if a technical solution to avoid border checks cannot be agreed.

"I think the Government should go back and negotiate for change to that, it wouldn't need too much change," he says.

"If we can't do that, we should leave on World Trade Organisation Terms, the scare stories are over-blown. There will be a bit of risk in the short-term, but it will also open up exciting new opportunities to strengthen our trade links with the growing economies around the world, and mean we do not have to give the EU £39 billion, strengthening our hand in the next round of negotiations."

He does not rule out voting for Mrs May's deal in future, but says such a decision would depend on what the other options were.

"People voted to leave the EU, and we have to be pragmatic and realistic about it," he says. "But if they see that means some form of single market or customs union arrangement, then they are not going to have seen us as delivering that promise.

"The important thing is that there must not be any more extensions. I would prefer us not to be holding the European elections."

Mr Raab says another reason why Brexit needs to be resolved swiftly is to allow the Government to deal with other matters.

"People are concerned about the cost of living, the quality of the NHS, the need for a fairer economy that serves both workers and consumers," he says.

"A lot of workers haven't had pay rises for several years, and some tax cuts for lower- and middle-income families – maybe a 1p cut off the basic rate of income tax, or a reduction to National Insurance contributions – are the sort of things we should be talking about.

"We need to improve opportunities for young people, particularly with regard to the housing shortage, a cut in stamp duty could well help with that."

He says improving productivity in the economy, through investment in vocational education and training, should also be a priority.

"We need to be talking about young apprenticeships for people aged 14-16, as well as degree-level apprenticeships such as the ones being run just up the road at Jaguar Land Rover, these offer the best of both worlds, all the benefits of university with none of the debt."

Tax cuts, improvements to the NHS, investment in education and training: where will the money come from? Mr Raab believes, even after nine years of Conservative-led government, there is still scope to cut waste and streamline government operations.

"For instance, I would suggest we could still cut the number of government departments," he says. "We could bring the Department for International Trade and the Department for International Development back into the Foreign Office.

"I also think, if you cut taxes, the number of transactions will increase, and we will generate more tax receipts that way, that's what happened when we cut corporation tax."