an iron fist in a velvet glove

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an iron fist/hand in a velvet glove

something that you say when you are describing someone who seems to be gentle but is in fact severe and firm To enforce each new law the president uses persuasion first, and then force - the iron hand in the velvet glove.
See also: fist, glove, iron, velvet
References in periodicals archive ?
The Swede rarely relishes confrontation with his players - but he's not afraid to apply an iron fist in a velvet glove if necessary.
His diplomatic efforts to coach with an iron fist in a velvet glove then suffered a further jolt in an interview with BBC Radio Five Live.