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5 March 2019

Theresa May has a recruitment problem. Just ask Robert Goodwill

Resignations over Brexit have left the prime minister with more ministerial vacancies than there are willing or able conscripts.

By Patrick Maguire

One of the lesser-covered rolling crises Brexit has inflicted on Theresa May is that of recruitment. As members of the payroll resign in protest at government policy (40 have done so since May became prime minister, with 16 this year alone), the pool of potential replacements gets smaller and smaller until the executive is left with those it would otherwise not want to have a government job, or those with no interest in taking one.

For evidence of May’s human resources problem, look to the government’s latest ministerial appointment: Robert Goodwill. The Scarborough and Whitby MP has this afternoon replaced George Eustice, who resigned over the prime minister’s decision to offer parliament a vote on extending Article 50, as minister for fisheries and farming. Unlike Eustice, he supported Remain in 2016 albeit reluctantly. Just as significantly, he was sacked from his last ministerial job in January 2018. 

Those facts reflect two uncomfortable truths for Downing Street. The first is that its Brexit policy has more or less entirely depleted the backbenches of leavers with ministerial experience who are still willing to serve in this government. The rest have already resigned. The second is that necessity is now forcing them to recruit those who they previously thought it was safe to unceremoniously dispense with. In short, a lack of the goodwill they need has driven them to Goodwill they didn’t.

As the Institute for Government’s Alasdair de Costa points out in a timely blog for HuffPost, this extended game of whack-a-mole is likely to have serious political consequences. Resignations over Europe have left 14 government roles, including several key jobs aiding cabinet ministers, unfilled. The lack of willing or able conscripts could foment indiscipline among those still on the payroll ahead of next week’s Brexit votes. If you know your paymasters will find it difficult  to replace you, then there is less incentive to behave especially when the question is so contentious. 

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