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Boris Johnson’s Cabinet ‘massacre’: who’s in, who’s out and what it means

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Jacob Rees-Mogg
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Jacob Rees-Mogg is appointed leader of the Commons, his first ever government role

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Jacob Rees-Mogg

The new prime minister has shattered Theresa May’s ministerial set-up

Reaction William Gritten
Thursday, July 25, 2019 - 6:21am

Among Boris Johnson’s first acts as prime minister was a ruthless, sweeping Cabinet reshuffle aimed at uniting the government under his leadership.

Even some Brexit-supporting ministers were purged after backing his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Nigel Evans, a member of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, characterised the developments as “not so much a reshuffle as a summer’s day massacre”.

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Within hours of the new PM entering 10 Downing Street, 17 Cabinet attendees - 13 of them full ministers - were sacked or walked out. Full-throated Brexit backers Priti Patel and Dominic Raab were appointed to senior positions: Patel as home secretary and Raab as foreign secretary.

Only one of the Great Offices, Chancellor of the Exchequer, will be held by a Remain voter, with Sajid Javid becoming the first Muslim to lead the Treasury.

“The sackings suggested Mr Johnson wasn’t looking to build bridges across the party,” says the BBC. “Instead... he was focused above all else on assembling the team he thought would bring about the results he needed, even if that was controversial.”

Beyond a determination to achieve Brexit, there are other characteristics that will define Johnson’s government. As Tom Harwood writes in The Daily Telegraph: “Mr Johnson’s new top table is made up of far more committed Brexiteers, but also true believers in the greatest wealth creating force ever discovered – the free market.”

“All in all, this is the beginning of a Cabinet that is more obviously right-wing than its predecessor,” says Tom Rogan in the Washington Examiner. “That will cheer conservatives but worry moderate Conservative Party members over fears of alienating independent voters.”

While his Cabinet revamp is significant, perhaps just as indicative of what a Johnson government will look like are his staffing decisions. “The closest analogy to the government Boris Johnson is forming is Blair’s and Brown’s New Labour government of 1997, when they appointed super powerful political advisers – Campbell, Powell, Balls, Whelan – to boss conservative Whitehall,” writes Robert Peston in The Spectator. “That is what Johnson is doing – in spades – by making former Vote Leave campaign chief Dominic Cummings his de facto chief executive as senior advisor.”

It isn’t just Cummings, but an entire team of Cummings-selected staff who will scramble to get Britain out of the EU by Halloween.

In further details of the reshuffle, Hunt refused an offer of a demotion from foreign secretary to defence secretary, choosing to return to the backbenches. Ben Wallace, whom The Independent calls “one of Mr Johnson’s oldest and closest parliamentary allies”, was appointed in his stead.

Wallace will replace Penny Mordaunt, a popular, proggressive Brexiter, whose crime, the Daily Express speculates, was to support Hunt in the leadership campaign.

Liam Fox was also fired after serving as trade secretary for the whole of May’s three-year term, with Business Insider going as far as to portray Wednesday’s reshuffle as a “brutal purge of Jeremy Hunt supporters”.

Arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg was made leader of the Commons, his first ever government role. 

Speaking to Sky News, he said the parliamentary arithmetic hasn’t changed but that the default position was to leave the EU on 31 October.

“Parliament would have to change the law and it’s hard to see how that would happen,” he said. “The House of Commons will run in its normal way and it will be my role as Leader of the House to ensure that parliamentary business is the business parliament ought to have in accordance with our constitutional norms, which I attach great importance to.”

While most reports agree the new PM’s criteria for selecting new Cabinet ministers seem to have been twofold - you either had to be a Brexit advocate, or a Johnson loyalist, preferably both - some have pointed out this Cabinet’s record-breaking diversity.

Other commentators saw the remodelling of the Cabinet in a more nefarious light:

In The Guardian, Jonathan Freedland suggests that up until this point we have not known which version of Boris Johnson the prime minister would turn out to be: “Would it be the twice-elected mayor of London, who won over a Labour-voting, progressive city, or would it be the leader of the Vote Leave campaign, whose lies and insults have led the US president himself to hail him as the British Trump?” While Freedland thinks Johnson will try to inhabit both sides of his political personality, he says “the complexion of his first cabinet suggests victory for the latter”.

The new Johnson line-up:

  • Chancellor Sajid Javid (replaces Philip Hammond)
  • Home Secretary Priti Patel (replaces Sajid Javid)
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab (replaces Jeremy Hunt)
  • Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay (no change)
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove (replaces David Lidington)
  • Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (replaces Penny Mordaunt)
  • International Trade Secretary Liz Truss (replaces Liam Fox)
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock (no change)
  • Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers (replaces Michael Gove)
  • Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (replaces Damian Hinds)
  • Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan (replaces Jeremy Wright)
  • Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom (replaces Greg Clark)
  • Housing and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (replaces James Brokenshire)
  • Works and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd (no change but adding Women and Equalities brief)
  • Justice Secretary Robert Buckland (replaces David Gauke)
  • International Development Secretary Alok Sharma (replaces Rory Stewart)
  • Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (replaces Chris Grayling)
  • Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns (no change)
  • Scottish Secretary Alister Jack (replaces David Mundell)
  • Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (replaces Karen Bradley)
  • Leader of Lords Baroness Evans (no change)
  • Leader of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg (replaces Andrea Leadsom)
  • Conservative Party Chairman James Cleverly (replaces Brandon Lewis)
  • Chief Whip Mark Spencer (replaces Julian Smith)
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