Blogs

Can the new cabinet meet the looming brexit deadline?

Amy Fisher

Boris won the race to Number Ten. Can he now win the race against time as that 31st of October deadline looms ever closer?

To quote Bruce Springsteen, “The highway’s jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.”

Which sort of seems to sum up the Brexiteer-heavy Boris Cabinet that now governs Britain. For if the Vote Leave team that has reformed and is now in charge fails to deliver on their promises in the next three months (by the October 31st exit deadline), things might start to look very dicey indeed.

Whilst he was always the front-runner, we shouldn’t forget that a few weeks back Boris wasn’t necessarily a shoo-in. In the end, as a former colleague put it to me a few days ago, did a chunk of members decide that the Brexit problem is so bonkers, only Boris stands a chance of being its answer?

In the event, having romped home with a very comfortable 66 per cent of the vote, Boris had the majority to not just stamp his authority on his new Cabinet, but jump up and down on it in a pair of hobnail boots. A record 17 ministers were killed off in five frenzied hours yesterday afternoon, and new appointments made.

Over the next couple of days, into the weekend, more junior ministerial appointments will take place. MPs will be spending the weekend nervously checking and rechecking their iPhones. These things are never straightforward – and sometimes become the stuff of Westminster folklore. Former Labour MP Malcolm Wicks once missed out on a government role because the post-it note with his name on it fell to the floor and wasn’t retrieved until all ministerial postings had been allocated.

Reshuffles are, of course, very far from being a laughing matter. It’s traditional for them to be labelled ‘massacres’ and ‘bloodbaths’. This one really lived up to that label. It was spectacularly Caligula-esque.

Former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt’s respectable loss in the leadership ballot wasn’t even enough to save him. He was offered the role of Defence Secretary – and turned it down as apparently he didn’t want the demotion.

There are alternative cynical whispers doing the rounds. Some are saying he was deliberately offered the MoD role as Team Boris knew that he wouldn’t want to shaft the former incumbent Penny Mordaunt, who had been one of his ardent supporters in the leadership campaign. Naval Reservist Penny was popular in the MoD and is popular in the Conservative Party; there are chunterings of discontent at her being killed off after a mere 85 days in post.

The big winners are Priti Patel, with a huge promotion to Home Secretary. No doubt a wag from the Parliamentary journalist lobby will ask Number Ten at some point to clarify whether bringing back capital punishment (which she apparently once supported – she actually doesn’t) is now official Government policy. Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab similarly has got one of the biggest and most coveted jobs at the Foreign Office. Sajid Javid, as had been widely tipped, now has the responsibility of looking after the nation’s finances in the Treasury.

Other appointments include Ben Wallace taking over at the Ministry of Defence – a position he has long-hankered for. He’s popular amongst colleagues, and this may go some way to mollifying the disquiet over Penny Mordaunt’s summary sacking.

James Cleverly has been made Chairman of the Party. He was in the very early stages of the contest a leadership contender himself, but threw the towel in early and backed Boris, for which he’s been rewarded. He’s also a popular appointment and a smart choice – he’s one of the best communicators that the Party has at the moment. This could soon come in handy if we are heading for the snap General Election that seems a real possibility and which advisers are openly talking about.

As the dust settles over the still-twitching corpses of some political careers, the real work must begin. Boris won the race to Number Ten. Can he now win the race against time as that 31st of October deadline looms ever closer?

Prior to joining MHP, Amy Fisher was a Conservative Party Adviser – as a Special Adviser at the Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and as Director of External Affairs, Outreach and Special Projects at Conservative Campaign Headquarters.