Since the disintegration of Boris Johnson‘s premiership in July 2022 seventy ministers have departed government posts over three administrations. With each firing, resignation and re-shuffle, the list of ministers entitled to a government pay-out gets longer and the cost to the public purse increases.
Departing ministers are entitled to claim a severance pay-out, a lump sum equivalent to around one quarter of their yearly ministerial salary on top of what they earn as an MP salary. This means a cabinet minister is eligible to claim £16,876.25, a minister of state £7,920 and a parliamentary under-secretary of state £5,593.75.
Ten ministers left at the start of the Liz Truss administration only to return seven weeks later under Rishi Sunak, including four senior cabinet members, two ministers of state, and four parliamentary under-secretaries or government whips. These are:
• Dominic Raab, Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary (eligible to claim up to £16,876.25)
• Steve Barclay, Health Secretary (£16,876.25)
• Grant Shapps, Business Secretary (£16,876.25)
• Jonny Mercer, Veterans Minister attending cabinet (£16,876.25)
• Marcus Jones, deputy chief whip (£7,920)
• Guy Opperman, Department for Work and Pensions minister of state, (£7,920)
• Julie Marson, assistant government whip (£5,593.75)
• David Rutley, parliamentary under-secretary of state for the Foreign Office (£5,593.75)
• Steve Double, assistant government whip (£5,593.75)
• Baroness Penn (£5,593.75)
The only exception to the pay-out is those who return to government within three weeks, which excludes Suella Braverman, the Home Secretary, who was out of the job for just a week.
The issue of severance pay has thrown a harsh light on the public cost of the last few months of political chaos. The vast sum of money up for grabs underlines the exceptionally high level of turnover in the government and comes as the UK is braced for spending cuts and real-terms pay falling across the public sector.
The News Agents podcast reported that in total £722,000 could be claimed by MPs who have departed government this year alone, due to both Boris Johnson and Truss being ousted from No10. Brandon Lewis, previously the Northern Ireland secretary and the justice secretary, stands to claim the most. Lewis is eligible to claim around £33,000 – the average salary of a nurse in the UK – after first his resignation from Johnson’s cabinet in July, and then his resignation after Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister.
[See also: Are Gavin Williamson’s texts the final straw?]
Michelle Donelan, who was only in post as education secretary for just two days, was entitled to claim almost £17,000 after her resignation, but refused to on the grounds she had not served long enough to justify it.
Raab has already indicated that he will only be claiming about 54 per cent of the payoff “pro rata” – so just over £9,000 – which would be roughly the amount of money he would have earned should he have stayed in post for that period. Shapps has also indicated he will only claim around half, donating the rest to charity.
Barclay, who last year pledged to tackle “golden goodbyes” – large severance payments made to departing senior civil servants – has not yet said whether he intends to claim his pay-out for departing as Health Secretary in September, only to return to the post less than two months later. Mercer also didn’t respond to enquiries as to whether he intended to claim the money.
None of the further six junior ministers responded when asked whether they had claimed, or intended to claim, the money.
Statutory redundancy pay for the rest of the nation is hardly as generous as that afforded to ministers. Employees are only entitled to a statutory redundancy pay-out if they’ve been with their employer for two years or more; depending on an employee’s age the payout is between half a week to a week and a half’s worth of pay for each year served.
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, called the payments available for former ministers “rewards for their party’s catalogue of failure”. She said: “If they had a shred of decency, they would already have made it clear that they will refuse these payments. Why should the public have to pick up the bill for the merry-go-round of resignations caused by the Tories’ revolving door of chaos? It’s time for the British public to get a proper say on the country’s future through a general election.”
The Cabinet Office, when asked, was also unable to provide a list of MPs who had accepted severance payments in the last few months but said it would eventually be set out in individual departments’ annual accounts.
[See also: Will Rishi Sunak sack Gavin Williamson?]