The Cabinet Reshuffle
Member Views is a series of opinion pieces written by Blue Beyond members.
Having scythed through Theresa May’s cabinet, replacing 17 senior ministers, when he was appointed as Prime Minister in July, Boris Johnson is now in his strongest ever position to appoint the cabinet he wishes to have- without having to deal with the major party concern around the balance of leave and remain MPs.
Some members of the cabinet are safe in their departments: Sajid Javid, Priti Patel, and Dominic Raab in the Great Offices of State all look secure, with the murmurs around Javid being quashed by Johnson during the election campaign. Beyond these, Secretaries of State, such as Robert Buckland at Justice, Matt Hancock at Health, and Grant Shapps at transport, are expected to continue in their respective positions.
This article is not comprehensive but instead focuses on what could happen in regards to the MPs who may potentially leave the government, those who may change department, and those who will get promoted. Aside from a few key ministerial positions that attend cabinet (such as Chief Secretary to the Treasury), I have avoided commenting on the safety of those positions.
• Jacob Rees-Mogg: Having been a prolific voice in the media both as a backbencher and during the initial stages of his time as Leader of the House of Commons, his comments on the Grenfell fire saw Rees-Mogg banished to his constituency, under strict orders to not do any interviews. Reports around his departure from the cabinet have been present since the election was won, and it would be no surprise to see him return to the backbenches.
• Theresa Villiers: In contrast to Michael Gove’s whirlwind time at DEFRA, where it appeared to be the only department fizzing with ideas and getting a positive review in the media, Villiers’ time has been incredibly under-the-radar. This is something that might concern the team at Number 10, as the environment is both increasingly important to voters, as well as being a policy area where Boris and Conservative commitments are strong. There are also plenty of stronger voices on the environment on the Conservative benches.
• Nicky Morgan: Having gone back on her desire to leave cabinet government after not standing in the election, Morgan returned to her role at the head of DCMS to fill the position until the reshuffle. There is now talk of the department being broken up and closed, which may explain why no MP was appointed to the position.
• Alok Sharma: The rumours that the Department for International Development would be folded back into the Foreign Office have been dispelled, but there is now talk of a halfway house – a separate department, but overseen by Raab as well. Even if this doesn’t occur, Sharma has been fairly invisible since joining the cabinet, and Boris might see to use the department for promotion.
There are a few individuals who should also be watched. Thérèse Coffey, the current DWP Secretary, Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, and even Julian Smith have all at one stage been linked in news reports with being replaced in the reshuffle. Replacing Julian Smith as Northern Ireland Secretary would be an incredibly bold move given his success in getting the Stormont Executive up and running again, with all five qualifying parties involved. I suspect he will continue in the position as a result of this – if he had failed and an election was required, he would have been replaced.
• Michael Gove: As no deal preparations are no longer required, the need for Gove to be overseeing them in the position of Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster has also ended. With the Mail on Sunday reporting that he may stay in the role, both overseeing governmental reform and the Brexit negotiations (led by David Frost), he may end up operating as the CEO to Boris’ Chairman. However, there is also the potential for him to be returned to a ministry. On this basis, the long-standing rumour is of him leading a DExEU/International Trade super-department, not only negotiating the new relationship with the European Union but also overseeing trade deals with CANZUK, America and so on. An interesting move will be whether Gove formally becomes the Number 2 in government (either as Deputy Prime Minister or as First Secretary of State), or will Dominic Raab continue to hold that position.
• Steve Barclay: The DExEU Secretary of State is another who has been a solid and consistent member of the cabinet since Boris became Prime Minister. With his department being closed, it is hard to see Barclay leaving the cabinet, so a new departmental portfolio will have to be found. Iain Dale, in a Conservative Home column, suggests DEFRA.
• Rishi Sunak: Sunak caught the eye when himself, Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden became the three young “hotshot” Conservative MPs to back Boris. Since then, his stock has continued to rise, with him being entrusted to stand in for Boris in the multi-party debates. It is expected that he will be promoted from his current role as Chief Secretary to the Treasury to take over the BEIS department in whatever form it has (with talks of digital being merged into this).
• Liz Truss: With some reporting that Michael Gove will be taking Truss’ department (in charge of negotiating both the new Brexit deal and international trade agreements), her position in cabinet will be under question. However, due to the lack of women in Boris’ cabinet currently (a big issue he is facing in the reshuffle – replacing female members with men), she may be reshuffled instead to a new department – which would be her fifth cabinet position.
• Andrea Leadsom: Alongside the persistent rumours around Gove, Sunak has been heavily linked to taking over at BEIS. This makes it seems inevitable that Leadsom leaves that department. Much like Truss though, the shortage of women around the Cabinet table may mean she retains a role, perhaps returning to being the Leader of the House, where she was widely respected on both sides of the House.
• Penny Mordaunt: the most surprising departure of all the cabinet ministers when Boris took office in July, Mordaunt had long been an impressive Secretary of State and was in her dream job at Defence. She surprised many by not running in the leadership election, but both her support of Jeremy Hunt and the presence of Ben Wallace as a loyal Johnson ally seemed to cost her the position. Newspaper reports say that this was a move Boris regretted and will seek to put right in February. If so, the choice of department will be interesting – it is hard to see Wallace moving from Defence, or Raab from the Foreign Office, so will it be a return to DFID?
• Victoria Atkins: Seen as a rising star in the Conservative Party, Tim Shipman of The Sunday Times has predicted that the next leadership election will be between her and Rishi Sunak. Media outlets had linked her to the Culture Secretary position before it was announced Nicky Morgan would continue in the role, but she will be someone to keep an eye on.