The Week in Westminster: It’s all change in the Cabinet
Your need-to-know guide to this week's UK political happenings
As the European Parliament begins its internal Brexit position debates, Boris Johnson has similarly been taking care of matters at home this week. His long-awaited Cabinet reshuffle finally took place on Thursday – more of which below – while an equally long-awaited decision about HS2 was finally made. But, of course, a week in Westminster also wouldn’t be complete without some scandal, criticism and debate – read on for everything you need to know.
The ins and outs of the reshuffle
A full Cabinet reshuffle usually takes place the week after a general election but, with Brexit top of the agenda in December, Johnson has wasted until now to announce his Cabinet appointees. As with any announcement that involves the firing and hiring of public figures, it can be a pretty dramatic event. While Jacob Rees-Mogg, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock, Liz Truss, Priti Patel, Robert Buckland and Dominic Raab will be staying in place, here are the latest round of winners and losers:
Julian Smith: The chief whip earned himself a spot on the chopping block after being difficult over Johnson’s Brexit strategy back in the autumn. Despite securing the return of Stormont and being highly regarded as a good secretary of state by many in Northern Ireland, the former May ally seems never to have gained the full trust of Johnson and will now return to the backbenches as the MP for Skipton and Ripon.
Sajid Javid: The biggest shock of the day, Javid was not sacked but resigned after being told he could keep the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer – but only if he fired all his advisers. Johnson is believed to have demanded they be replaced with No 10 approved advisers which was a condition Javid was not prepared to accept. With the next budget due in less than a month, this will come as a blow to Johnson who has expressed very public support for Javid in the past.
Andrea Leadsom: Having served in Cabinet roles since 2016, Leadsom came through the ranks of May’s government peaking as the leader of the Commons where she made her force known in exchanges with then-Speaker John Bercow. However, she has been less successful in her current position as secretary for business and, as a prominent candidate in the Tory leadership contest, perhaps it makes sense for Johnson to remove his former challenger.
Esther McVey: Another former Tory leadership candidate – although with markedly less success – Esther McVey has been in and out of the Cabinet a number of time since she was first elected as the MP for Wirral West in 2010. Notable among them was her tenure as secretary of state for work and pensions in 2017, which saw her criticised for misleading parliament over universal credit, while, until yesterday she served as minister of state for housing and planning.
Geoffrey Cox: According to sources, the attorney general is not considered a team player by No 10 and fell out of favour when he demanded Johnson write to the EU for an extension to article 50 in the autumn. He does, however, appear to gunning for a government-related position as head of the government’s review of the judiciary as part of his post-Cabinet career.
Theresa Villiers: Despite being regarded as one of the most senior female Tory MPs – and a prominent Vote Leave campaigner – Villiers has lost her job as secretary of state at DEFRA after just six months. She will be remembered for her support of fracking and opposition to the expansion of Heathrow airport.
Nusrat Ghani: Bit of a mystery here. Ghani had been a favourite to take the job overseeing HS2 – she was previously a junior transport minister – but was dismissed from the Cabinet with very little explanation.
George Freeman: May’s former policy chief and, until now, minister for transport took his dismissal in good spirits, tweeting that he was ‘out on his bike’.
Chris Skidmore: Another MP who doesn’t seem too sad about his dismissal, former universities minister Chris Skidmore will be leaving the job after just five months. He announced the news by tweeting a picture of his new baby with the caption, “Got a promotion in the reshuffle to be a better Dad”.
Rishi Sunak: A frankly remarkable appointment, Sunak was not technically a member of the cabinet until he was announced as the new Chancellor of the Exchequer. In his capacity as chief secretary to the Treasury he was merely a minister with the right to attend and this, one of the top positions, will be his first official Cabinet appointment. Many analysts believe this could signal a loosening of Javid’s fiscal policies and a new era of spending.
Brandon Lewis: The current security minister will take over as Northern Ireland secretary at a crucial time for the position. This significant promotion will see Lewis tasked with the tricky job of negotiating a way forward for the Northern Irish border post-Brexit. The major data breach of ministers’ personal details that took place during his time as party chair has, apparently, been forgotten.
Amanda Milling: Currently MP for Cannock Chase and deputy chief whip, Milling will take over as party chair from James Cleverly. More under the radar than her fellow Cabinet appointees, she is a long-time Johnson ally and was integral to his leadership campaign strategy.
Alok Sharma: Sharma has been promoted from international development secretary to business secretary, with responsibility for the COP26 climate change conference now coming under his remit. He has previously held positions as employment minister, foreign minister and housing minister, during which time he came under considerable flack for the government’s handling of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Oliver Dowden: Currently a minister in the Cabinet Office, Dowden has been promoted to secretary of state at the department for digital, culture, media and sport. Commonly regarded as a fairly cushy Cabinet position, Dowden will instead have to gear up for battle with the BBC and navigate debates over the licence fee.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan: Trevelyan will move from her position as defence minister – which she only assumed two months ago – to become the international development secretary. Ostensibly a promotion for this Johnson loyalist, there is some uncertainty about the future of the department with many predicting it will be absorbed into the Foreign Office in the coming months.
Suella Braverman: Braverman will fill the newly vacated attorney general spot – an odd choice as she has made plenty fo past decisions which seem to out her at odds with the courts. She, for example, was in strong support of Johnson’s proroguing of parliament last year – a move eventually deemed illegal by the supreme court.
George Eustice: Gove ally and current DEFRA minister, Esutice has been promoted to lead the department. Deemed an expert on the UK fishing industry, he has been an MP since 2012 and was director of the anti-euro campaign.
Anything else happen this week?
As it happens, yes. On Tuesday Johnson finally announced he would give HS2 – the high-speed rail link between London and the UK’s northern cities – the go ahead despite ballooning costs and mounting delays. On the subject of ballooning cost, Johnson came under scrutiny on Wednesday when he was called to explain who footed the bill for his £15k Caribbean New Year’s holiday. According to the register of members’ interests Johnson stayed at the home of Tory donor David Ross – except Ross then made a statement saying this was not the case and he paid no money towards the holiday – prompting questions about who really did.
Elsewhere there have been calls for an inquiry into the government’s funding of Norton Motorcycles. The now defunct firm received around £6 million worth of loans and grants from the government before it went bust – along with endorsements from high profile politicians – without, it is claimed, much in the way of due diligence to uncover the company’s financial issues.
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