Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer
So far optimism has been the watchword of Boris Johnson’s time in office, and no department will be quite as central to translating it into a coherent programme for government – or election – than the Treasury, where Sajid Javid has taken the reins.
That the former home secretary has been given the nod over the likes of Liz Truss, who backed the new Prime Minister earlier, is a testament to the strong account he gave of himself in the early stages of the leadership contest, which saw him make a much more convincing and articulate pitch for the frontrunner’s policy of tax cuts for high earners than Johnson ever managed to.
It also comes despite his provenance as a protege of George Osborne, under whom he served as a junior Treasury minister, and a decision to back Remain in 2016 that inspired such a visceral reaction among Brexiteers that, to some, he remains persona non grata. But since then he has made his peace with a no-deal Brexit, a potential economic catastrophe that will dominate his first 100 days at No 11.
How might Javid prepare? It is clear, both from his and Johnson’s rhetoric, that their solution will involve not only an emergency budget to lay the fiscal groundwork for no-deal in the Autumn, but a significant loosening of the spending straitjacket that constrained both George Osborne and Philip Hammond. (Hammond, incidentally, criticised Javid and Johnson’s failure to explain how they would fund their expensive pledges during the campaign.)
The broad contours of the new Prime Minister’s plan for spending on infrastructure, health, education and the police are broadly aligned with measures that Javid has advocated in the past: a £50bn fund for new housing, a £100bn infrastructure fund – for spending on superfast broadband and new transport links – and 20,000 new police officers. Then, of course, there is Johnson’s casual pledge to fix the social care crisis “once and for all” – which may well prove to be the most expensive sentence will utter as Prime Minister.
As well as that hefty programme of new spending, Johnson and Javid have also made clear their desire to cut taxes – which will only exacerbate their fiscal headache. But that’s optimism for you. If they are willing to abandon Philip Hammond’s budgetary rules – namely his target to keep public sector borrowing at two per cent of GDP and his commitment to keep public sector debt falling every year – then they will have much more headroom to do so.
Will Javid be so bold as to do so? Interrogate the sunny rhetoric a little and it isn’t entirely clear. His deputy Rishi Sunak, the new Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said this morning that the government would keep debt falling every year – a commitment neither Johnson nor Javid made as leadership candidates. If Javid stays true to that promise, then it is hard to see where the optimism is going to flow from: Johnson likes to talk of the £39bn divorce bill as “lubrication” for a no-deal scenario, but its payment is phased and some has already been given to Brussels. There is also the small matter of the government’s lack of a majority, which makes any serious tax and spending commitments very difficult indeed.
We might also note that almost every Eurosceptic minister to have been given a job in a delivery department – Philip Hammond, don’t forget, started life as one of them, and Michael Gove was another – comes out the other side warier of no-deal than when they arrived. Faced with the institutional might of the Treasury and the brute economic reality of a no-deal Brexit, there is no guarantee that Javid’s bolder pledges will survive – especially given that he is not a personal or, in normal times, even a political ally of Johnson (compare their relationship to that of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, or David Cameron and George Osborne).
But all of these questions will be moot, of course, if Javid’s real role is to prepare an economic programme for a snap election.
Dominic Raab, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and First Secretary of State
Boris Johnson’s approach to assembling his first cabinet bore one similarity with how Theresa May put together hers in 2016: both unceremoniously dismissed those they deemed to be most tainted by association with the previous regime. But on Brexit, the defining mission of each government, Johnson has departed from a personnel strategy that was ultimately his predecessor’s undoing: attempting to strike a balance between Leavers and Remainers. Instead, Johnson has assembled a team that, with perhaps one or two exceptions at the very most, is completely reconciled to his embrace of a no-deal Brexit.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the very top jobs, and particularly at the Foreign Office – where Dominic Raab, his former leadership rival and the one-time Brexit secretary, replaces the sacked Jeremy Hunt. He has worked at the department before, albeit as one of its team of lawyers.
The fundamental reason why Raab takes up Johnson’s former post as foreign secretary, and not Amber Rudd, Penny Mordaunt, Liz Truss or indeed Hunt, is his hard line on Brexit. He was the only serious contender to outflank Johnson on the question of no-deal during the leadership election – and in the process introduced a grateful Westminster to the concept of proroguing parliament.
So as far as the politics of his new role are concerned, Raab’s primary duty will be to spread and reinforce the message that Johnson is serious about his Brexit position in the chancelleries of Europe and beyond. In that respect, his appointment is an attempt to ensure that the identity of the Foreign Secretary has no bearing on the government’s defining policy, or how it is seen abroad, at all. That was very much not the case when Johnson served under May. (A cynic might also note that it limits his opportunities to schmooze MPs ahead of another leadership bid.)
Raab’s appointment as First Secretary of State – a role that will see him deputise for Johnson at Prime Minister’s Questions – is clearly intended to serve an analogous purpose at Westminster. On the occasions where Remainer’s Remainer David Lidington stood in for May at PMQs, identifying points of divergence between his Brexit stance and the then prime minister’s was an easy and destabilising sport. But it is away from Brexit where Raab will face his toughest challenges, particularly on Iran. He will have to decide whether or not to depart from Jeremy Hunt’s response to the tanker crisis in the Gulf, which was to attempt to assemble a European taskforce to defend commercial shipping. Johnson may prefer to follow Donald Trump’s lead, a course Hunt fiercely resisted.
Then, of course, there is the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, which Raab’s predecessor made his own. Johnson has always insisted that it is the Iranian government and not he that is responsible for her imprisonment, but Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family disagree. The politics of mediation will be tricky for Raab – and trickier still if he follows his Atlanticist instincts and rows in behind the Trump administration elsewhere in the Middle East (Raab, like Trump, is staunchly pro-Israel).
While acting as a salesman for Johnsonism in Europe might make the prime minister’s life easier when it comes to Brexit, it has the potential to complicate the foreign policy picture elsewhere. The FCO hierarchy and its staff, meanwhile, view Raab’s appointment with an air of trepidation – not least because of his reputation as a prickly, demanding and often pretentious taskmaster.
Priti Patel, Secretary of State for the Home Department
Of all the appointments Boris Johnson has made to his first Cabinet, few have been the source of quite as much controversy – and derision – as that of Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary.
Not only has the appointment of the former International Development Secretary, who quit in disgrace over secret meetings with the Israeli government in 2017, raised serious concerns among some Tories who disagree with her militancy on Brexit – she was, after all, one of only 28 Eurosceptics to vote against the withdrawal agreement three times – but also because of her reputation for hardline positions on law and order.
Labour have made much hay out of her previous support for the death penalty – a position she resiled from in 2016 but is nonetheless still dogged by. If there is one appointment that speaks to the likelihood that Johnson’s administration will repel socially liberal voters and Remainers, then it is almost certainly that of Patel.
But what will her appointment mean for the Home Office, a department that has spent the past year mired in controversy over the Windrush scandal, its handling of the settled status scheme for EU citizens and rising knife crime?
In his inaugural speech on the steps of Downing Street, Johnson promised to increase police numbers by 20,000. The following day, in his first statement to the House of Commons, he suggested he would fight knife crime by increasing police stop and search powers. The politics of both will be tricky enough, but implementing – and paying for – policy changes while keeping the police onside is a big ask at a department as big and dysfunctional as the Home Office, whose budget has been cut by nearly a quarter since 2010.
But in Patel he will have a Home Secretary who will be more than willing to pursue the sort of tough line he is sketching out. Earlier this year she called for knife offenders to be given longer sentences and denied early release. Her authoritarian disposition sets up a potential clash with Robert Buckland, the one-time Remainer just promoted to Justice Secretary. His predecessor, David Gauke, had been a liberalising influence, and Buckland’s politics are cut from similar cloth.
As far as the really big political priority of Johnson’s administration is concerned – Brexit – Patel’s most important job will be to help devise and implement a post-Brexit migration regime, or rather rebrand the existing points-based regime for non-EU migrants along the lines that Vote Leave sold it in 2016: an Australian-style system. As the daughter of Ugandan Asian immigrants, Patel is the ideal saleswoman – a role which she played in the referendum campaign, and will doubtless play in an election not too far in the future.
Michael Gove, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Even Michael Gove’s detractors agree that he is one of, if not the most talented ministers and departmental administrators of his generation. So why has Boris Johnson moved him from Defra, a department he transformed from an antechamber for MPs on their way out of government to one of the few genuine success stories of Theresa May’s administration, to the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster?
The sinecure position is whatever the Prime Minister of the day makes of it. The last holder of the office under May, David Lidington, was her de facto deputy – responsible for managing the powerful backroom Cabinet sub-committees where the work of government actually gets done, and liaising with the devolved administrations and Dublin over Brexit.
Gove’s iteration of the role bestows him with even more power than Lidington. He has been given a roving brief to oversee preparations for no-deal across Whitehall , and as such will act as Johnson’s ministerial enforcer on the policy that will define his government. Tories also expect him to act as a representative on earth for Dominic Cummings, his former special adviser at the Department for Education, the campaign chief of Vote Leave, and Johnson’s senior adviser.
That Johnson has picked his sometime nemesis for the job that will quite possibly make or break his administration after a leadership campaign that was not without its fair share of ad hominem and acrimony tells us two things: that he trusts in Gove’s abilities, and that he is determined to prepare for a no-deal Brexit in the serious and coordinated way that so many Leavers feel has never been attempted.
His biggest challenge, then, will be balancing the political demands of that role with his sincerely-held anxieties about the impact of a no-deal – not to mention the need for realpolitik in dealing with Edinburgh and Dublin.
Robert Buckland, Secretary of State for Justice
The new groove of appointing a former lawyer as Justice Secretary continues, following the successful tenure of David Gauke – the first solicitor to hold the post. Robert Buckland, a QC and former solicitor general, with experience as prisons minister, is likely to follow in Gauke’s reforming footsteps. The main next policy step would be following through with the proposal to scrap prison sentences under six months.
Buckland served under Gauke at the MoJ, so should have a clear idea of Gauke’s unusually liberal prison agenda for a Conservative administration. Also, like Gauke, he was a Remainer – but unlike his predecessor, who resigned before Johnson became PM, he supported Johnson’s leadership bid early on.
Buckland will also be Lord Chancellor – the first trial judge to fill this post as far back as the MoJ’s permanent secretary Richard Heaton can remember. There is a bit of a grumble in one corner of the legal world, however – barrister and Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry is questioning his fitness for the job, given he was found guilty of professional misconduct in 2008.
Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for Defence
Few of Boris Johnson’s close circle of personal allies were rewarded with full Cabinet posts. Ben Wallace, who has been promoted from Security Minister to Defence Secretary, is an exception – though only got the nod as a result of Jeremy Hunt turning it down.
The most immediate political challenge Wallace, a former Scots Guard who saw active service in Northern Ireland, will face is in the Gulf, where Johnson’s administration has a huge strategic call to make about its strategy on Iran: to Trump, or not to Trump?
At Westminster, the prosecution of veterans over historical allegations of battle crimes – an issue that animates Conservative backbenchers almost as much as Brexit. Johnson has pledged to end what many Conservative MPs consider to be unfair prosecutions – particularly of those who, like Wallace, served in Northern Ireland.
That, as weary Northern Ireland Office mandarins point out to those MPs demanding an amnesty, statute of limitations or something similar. As a veteran, Wallace is by nature on board with their cause – and Johnson has promised a beefed-up Veterans Minister post too. He could well become embroiled in a Whitehall scrap.
Spending will be another source of tension: while Johnson has promised the increase a certain kind of Conservative demands ad infinitum it is not a given that the Treasury – or indeed the economy – will provide it.
Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care
Following the failed leadership candidate and Remainer’s embarrassing sycophancy towards Johnson during the campaign, Matt Hancock has stayed in the cabinet – but missed out on a promotion. The MP for West Suffolk since 2010 stays at the Department of Health and Social Care.
This continuity comes with policy challenges, however. Johnson has expressed an aversion to “health fascism” such as sin taxes, and Hancock has already reportedly tried to prevent the publication of a new green paper featuring proposals that include eradicating smoking by 2030, and restricting energy drinks to under-16s. It was published anyway, buried at 7.22pm on Tuesday night, with no press release or advance notice.
If Johnson is serious about starting a war with “nanny”, then Hancock will have a job on his hands steering the Department around from its achievements in areas such as the sugar tax to please his new boss. It will also feed into his lickspittle reputation.
The second half of his job title presents his other big crisis: social care. Johnson has said warm words on the subject with not much substance – giving nothing away but hinting at a “clear plan” in his first speech as Prime Minister. And Hancock himself had his own plan for £3.5bn extra for social care and the creation of an insurance system to cover costs, which will make selling any different proposals from Johnson tricky.
“Any plan which relies mainly on private insurance will not work, even with a pensions-style auto-enrolment scheme,” says the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee, which has done the most recent and detailed report on funding social care. This means lots of extra spending and probably general taxation – something Johnson’s newly appointed libertarians may not be so keen on. Expect this to become a political issue, and a headache for Hancock.
He will also continue to face questions on the perpetually delayed green paper on funding adult social care. Will Johnson’s “clear plan” make this moot?
Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
The promotion of Andrea Leadsom from self-imposed backbench exile to a full Cabinet post as Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy is a surprising one, though not for the reasons you might think.
BEIS was a creation of Theresa May – the interventionist ring of “Industrial Strategy” is the big clue – and there are plenty in Johnson’s camp, most notably Liz Truss, who would have preferred to seen it broken up or reduced in size. Its survival is most likely a sign that this administration is not intended to be long for this world: with an election looming, there is simply not enough time for a sweeping – or even modest – reorganisation of Whitehall.
Leadsom is only the second BEIS Secretary, and on Brexit – the issue causing businesses anxiety more than any other – she could not be further away from her predecessor, Greg Clark. Whereas Leadsom was one of the earliest ministerial converts to no-deal, Clark repeatedly defied the whip to oppose it.
He and his ministers saw their job as protecting the “wings and wheels” of the UK economy: its just-in-time supply chains and manufacturing industry. Leadsom will not only have to square her advocacy for a no-deal Brexit with the demands of business, but she must also convince them that the government could and would go through with the threat. Given the opposition of a Commons to no-deal, that could well prove tricky.
Before that, however, Leadsom has an even trickier job at the top of her in-tray: finding a buyer for British Steel. Should she fail, it may well damage the reputation of Johnson’s government among the voters in Leave areas that it is trying so desperately to woo.
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade
Does the Department for International Trade have a future? Boris Johnson’s embrace of a no-deal Brexit, the composition of his cabinet and his decision to appoint as its Secretary of State Liz Truss, the hawkish Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggests it does.
Truss was among Johnson’s most energetic outriders during the leadership campaign, and was among the earlier converts to a no-deal Brexit in Theresa May’s last Cabinet. In many respects, her arrival won’t really change the job Liam Fox had done since May established DIT in 2016 – though many MPs will hope his successor speeds up the process of agreeing trade deals with third countries, particularly the US.
Arguably, however, her biggest challenge is domestic. The politics of international trade can be toxic, as Boris Johnson discovered during his first appearance at the dispatch box. Challenged to rule out the NHS ever being included in a US-UK trade deal, Johnson enthusiastically obliged.
The demands of electoral politics may clash with Truss’s free market instincts. In the immediate term, however, Truss’s role in Johnson’s administration will be as his optimism-peddler-in-chief – making the case for free trade on the airwaves ahead of an election, and weaponising DIT in a way the May government never really attempted to.
Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Minister for Women and Equalities
Amber Rudd, MP for Hastings and Rye since 2010, was a Jeremy Hunt supporter and ardent Remainer – until the last days of the leadership contest when she suddenly had the epiphany that she could cope with no deal. Apparently her last-minute manoeuvre was enough to keep her in the cabinet though, where she stays as Work and Pensions Secretary and has also been handed the Women and Equalities brief.
Rudd has been credited in the press and within government as heralding a “reset” on the disastrous new welfare system Universal Credit. She has certainly made the right noises and tweaked a few bits and bobs to suggest she understands more how terrible the reforms are than any of her predecessors did.
But, as I’ve written before, her rhetoric is rather different from the reality of what’s actually changed in that Department.
It had become a theme in the dying days of May for ministers to simply announce things that they had absolutely no means (and sometimes even no intention) of actually doing. Indeed, I’ve heard that at least one secretary of state felt frustrated because they were well-behaved when they could have just been employing this cavalier tactic to look good like their colleagues – with little scrutiny from a Brexit-fatigued press.
That won’t be as easy in a brand new cabinet, you’d hope. Although Brexit will be in a sharper spotlight, so will the few Remainer cabinet ministers like herself, so she will need to tread carefully on policy as well as politics.
She has, however, so far avoided the villain status of DWP secretaries before her, like Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey. If the worst scandals of Universal Credit are already well-told, and the benefits freeze ends when it’s scheduled to end next year, then this may continue.
In terms of the women and equalities brief, this is becoming an area where ministers feel they can make proper progress and leave good legacies (May often mentioned its work in set-piece speeches). Rudd may find she can do her best work in that area.
Gavin Williamson, Secretary of State for Education
The appointment of Gavin Williamson as Education Secretary continues a remarkable journey from the backbenches to the Cabinet table twice over. Having been sacked as Defence Secretary over an alleged leak from the National Security Council in March, Williamson’s return is a reward for his central role as a parliamentary organiser for Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.
What does he intend to bring to his new office? The one-word answer is money. Schools funding was a running sore for ministers throughout Theresa May’s tenure, and may well have helped cost her a majority in the 2017 election. Johnson and Williamson have pledged to increase per-pupil funding by at least £5,000 per child. During his leadership campaign, Johnson went even further and appeared to suggest that he would reverse all previous reductions to school budgets – a move that would cost £4.6 billion.
There is also the question of university funding. The Augar Review into tuition fees and further and higher education, commissioned by May, recently recommended a reduction in university fees to £7,500 a year – which would require a direct cash injection into the sector from the government – and a new programme of funding for vocational training. The job of responding will now fall to Jo Johnson, the new Universities Minister, and Williamson.
Such is the nature of minority government, and the likely lifespan of this particular one, that much of what Williamson intends to do – or could plausibly do – will only be feasible after an election
Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
This is a big promotion for the young Remainer (the first cabinet minister ever to be born in the Eighties) who had been serving as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. Despite his stance on Brexit, Robert Jenrick – MP for Newark since 2014 – backed Boris Johnson early on in the leadership campaign and was an enthusiastic advocate for him on the airwaves.
With the housing crisis and crippling underfunding of local government after a decade of austerity, this is a tough brief. Much will depend on the amount Johnson’s cabinet will let him spend – and how genuine Johnson was about turning the taps on spending and borrowing for infrastructure projects during his leadership campaign. As a Treasury alumnus, Jenrick may have picked up some tips on how to persuade them to open the coffers; his instincts are to increase supply of houses.
Yet Jenrick will be particularly vulnerable to Labour attacks as the Housing Secretary with multiple expensive houses for himself; his £5m property portfolio made headlines in 2014.
Julian Smith, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
One of the stranger subplots of Boris Johnson’s march to the Conservative leadership was the sheer number of his supporters who were said to covet the job of Northern Ireland Secretary.
The post is not a Cabinet position many of its holders, or indeed the prime ministers who appoint to it, have looked upon kindly: Reginald Maudling spoke for many when he described his new domain as a “bloody awful country” after his first visit. David Cameron, meanwhile, treated the Northern Ireland Office as a dumping ground for ministers he did not like but could not dispense with.
Yet Brexit and the government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP have given the job a certain lustre – and importance. Gavin Williamson, Conor Burns, Michael Fallon, and Michael Gove were all tipped, but in the end Boris Johnson chose a minister widely assumed to have come to the end of his time in government: Julian Smith.
Having ultimately failed to keep one government from disintegrating, the former Chief Whip’s immediate task will be to revive – or more likely wind down – the latest, stalled set of talks to restore another: the power-sharing executive at Stormont, which has not sat for two and a half years.
Both Karen Bradley and James Brokenshire failed to pull it off. Can Smith, a Remainer in 2016, succeed where they failed? It seems unlikely. Though neither of May’s Northern Ireland Secretaries was particularly well regarded at Stormont, the lack of a devolved government ultimately reflects the unwillingness of Sinn Fein and the DUP to return to office. Each party has a veto over the other, and the passage of legislation to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion from Westminster by October should the impasse continue means Sinn Fein have little incentive to return.
In that respect, Smith won’t be able to defy gravity. But his knowledge of the parliamentary numbers (especially on contentious issues like Troubles legacy prosecutions), procedure and the DUP’s 10 MPs means he would be better-placed than most to administer direct rule from Westminster – a demand Nigel Dodds et al are making with increasing impatience.
Should Johnson want to keep his majority, heeding that call would be advisable. The DUP believe that the Commons’ decision to legislate for equal marriage and abortion from Westminster sets a precedent that demands ministers to act on other issues. Without a hint of irony, Bradley used her first question from the backbenches to ask Johnson to legislate to compensate survivors of historical institutional abuse – a running sore that unites every party at Stormont – despite having been begged to do so for months. That bill will sit at the top of Smith’s in-tray.
A no-deal Brexit will demand direct rule too. For Smith, balancing the need for impartiality with the government’s political self-interest – and not to mention salvaging the reputation of his office after Bradley’s calamitous tenure – will be just as difficult as his last job.
Alister Jack, Secretary of State for Scotland
Before Boris Johnson’s Cabinet purge, one supporter of Jeremy Hunt who was widely assumed to be safe was David Mundell, the Scotland Secretary.
Mundell – for seven years the only Conservative MP in Scotland – had been in the post since 2015 and, despite his opposition to no-deal and history of personal attacks on Johnson, was considered by most of his colleagues to be the only person in the Commons with sufficient experience to do the job. As the race to succeed Theresa May crawled towards its inevitable conclusion, Mundell appeared to make his peace with a Johnson premiership – and, crucially, did not rebel over no deal in the week before his election as Tory leader.
Yet even that very public change of heart could not spare Mundell the chop. He has instead been replaced with Alister Jack, one of the 12 Scottish Conservative MPs elected for the first time in 2017. It is a huge promotion for the former whip, a wealthy Lowland landowner who was the first of his intake to get a full ministerial post and is now its first Cabinet minister.
When it comes to his brief, Jack’s priorities will be no different from Mundell’s: his most important responsibility will be to manage relations with the Scottish Government and hold the government line against a second independence referendum. As legislation for a new plebiscite makes its way through the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon – who scents opportunity for nationalism in a Johnson premiership – is taking an increasingly belligerent approach.
As the demands for a new vote get louder, the job of Scotland Secretary will not change. Though Jack’s Scottish colleagues are confident in his ability, others worry that now is no time for a neophyte, especially given the unpredictable electoral consequences Brexit could have in Scotland (one Scottish Tory MP joked on Johnson’s first night as prime minister that they hoped they SNP successor had as much fun in Parliament as they had).
Though Johnson began his term by appointing himself Minister for the Union – and eulogising the UK as the “awesome foursome” – it is Jack’s hiring that could prove just as consequential.
Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport
Nicky Morgan returns to cabinet as one of the few Remainers given a look in by Boris Johnson, albeit one who has come round to compromise with the Brexit cheerleaders of the European Research Group.
Yet her destination at the Department for Culture Media and Sport suggests she has been parked somewhere with limited scope for change under this government.
There are some live issues at DCMS. Morgan will have to navigate the blame game over BBC’s decision to stop funding free TV licences for the over 75s, a decision it was forced to make after Cameron’s culture secretary John Whittingdale shifted the cost to the corporation in 2015. New regulations on fixed odds betting terminals are also being heavily resisted by the gambling industry, though it’s unclear whether that is a “sin” that the Johnson government sees mileage in giving more leeway.
Yet the real impact of Morgan’s appointment may have more to do with who she isn’t.
Culture select committee chair Damian Collins swung behind Johnson’s campaign for the leadership, but unlike Whittingdale before him was not rewarded with the job of running rather than scrutinising the department.
That may have had something to do with the way Collins doggedly pursued the issue of misinformation and opaque political advertising on Facebook, targeting not only the tech giant but also those who manipulated its systems in a bid to influence voters, most notably during the Brexit Referendum. One of those was Vote Leave’s Dominic Cummings, who, when summoned to give evidence to Collins and his fellow committee members refused, leading to his being found in contempt of parliament.
Cummings is now a senior adviser to Boris Johnson, whose team within hours of getting into government flooded Facebook with ads laying the groundwork for an election campaign. Friends of Collins believe that the presence of Cummings explains his absence from the top table.
Alok Sharma, Secretary of State for International Development
The former employment minister Alok Sharma, MP for Reading West since 2010, backed Remain ahead of the referendum but helped out in Boris Johnson’s leadership preparations. According to Politico, he played the part of Jeremy Hunt in preparatory mock-debates.
Once a place where politicians would be put out to pasture, Dfid has become something of a stepping stone for some – with previous incumbents Penny Mordaunt moving up to become defence secretary (since sacked by Johnson), and Priti Patel promoted to Home Secretary (via a sacking-in-disgrace by May).
The role is a strange one in a minority government, as foreign trips are kept brief and less frequent because of the need to be present to vote, meaning Sharma will struggle to get stuck into the work.
Another challenge will be the hostility to Dfid around the cabinet table. Johnson himself has said he thinks it should be merged back into the Foreign Office, and that aid should “do more to serve the political and commercial interests” of the UK – views that will find sympathy among fellow cabinet members, not least Patel, who had called for Dfid to be scrapped and replaced with a trade department.
Within Dfid itself, there hasn’t been much sign of a looming merger, however, and Patel never pushed for it when she was at the helm. Whitehall restructures are messy and expensive, and May received a lot of stick when she shifted things around and created new departments (most obviously the Department for Exiting the European Union) upon becoming PM.
It’s also not that easy for the UK to redefine aid. The definition of aid is set out by the OECD’s development assistance committee. Plus, the International Development Act makes it illegal to tie aid to trade, and it’d be difficult to find a majority in this parliament for repealing the commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GDP on international development.
Theresa Villiers, Environment Secretary
Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet since 2005, served both as transport minister and Northern Ireland secretary under David Cameron. She has benefited from the disastrous performance of her successor but one, Karen Bradley, overshadowing negative views of her time in the latter role. Plus, she’s a genuine Leaver, as one of the six cabinet ministers to support Brexit during the EU referendum campaign.
Villiers place at a department that will be crucial to delivering Brexit with or without a deal is telling of Johnson’s intentions – she is a cheerleader for no deal, and has commented that the UK could flourish by trading on WTO terms.
She did, however, table a debate in 2017 on animal welfare in farming, and wishes to keep animal welfare standards at the same level at least to what we have within the EU. Can she maintain this position if we leave without a deal?
That Michael Gove made what was once a rather unglamorous department into a place where a minister can enact real change, set the agenda and attract headlines suggests Villiers’ role will be a relatively high-profile one. Climate change is also now higher up the public agenda. She may, however, struggle to gain such traction in the role as her predecessor, who is loved by many in the media for reasons other than his environmental ideas.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary
In Westminster, Grant Shapps’ name (or many names – his business pseudonyms landed him in trouble back in 2015) is usually a punchline. His false denial that he had a second job as an MP, his “get rich quick scheme” using the name “Michael Green”, and a story about changes to his Wikipedia page (though it transpired there was no evidence he was behind them) have all made him a figure of fun in UK politics.
However, it’s unlikely he could do much worse in the role of Transport Secretary than his notoriously incompetent predecessor, Chris Grayling. And Shapp is now that rare thing – a former Remainer running a department that would be severely tested by a no-deal Brexit. This suggests a level of trust from Johnson – whose leadership campaign benefited from Shapps’ spreadsheeting of MPs and their votes – but it could later harm Shapps.
Notably, the new Transport Secretary has long been an advocate of Heathrow expansion – perhaps signalling where Johnson now stands on a third runway, which would heavily impact on his Uxbridge & South Ruislip constituency. Previously, Johnson has opposed the expansion and conveniently missed a Commons vote on the issue by flying off to Afghanistan as foreign secretary.
Shapps has also consistently voted in favour of High Speed 2, and is a supporter of infrastructure projects in general, as chair of the British Infrastructure Group of MPs.