Politics

Cabinet Reshuffle? Here’s Who Could Be In Or Out

Like the rain this May, rumours about a Cabinet reshuffle never really go away, but they do at times intensify.

This appears to be one of those times, as HuffPost UK understands that officials are on alert for Boris Johnson changing his top team as early as next week.

The BBC and Sky News heard similar on Friday morning, prompting No.10 to strongly play down suggestions of a reshuffle to distract from Dominic Cummings’ appearance before a committee of MPs next Wednesday.

Johnson’s former top aide is threatening to steal the headlines with some bombshell revelations on the government’s handling of the pandemic.

But the prime minister’s press secretary has stressed: “There are no plans for a reshuffle”.

However, like outdoor drinkers caught out without a brolly, Westminster hacks cannot avoid the sudden storm of speculation.

So at the risk of looking like a pedestrian drenched by a car speeding through a puddle, i.e. silly, here’s what might happen when Johnson does decide to rejig his team.

Aaron Chown – PA Images via Getty Images

While there may be “no plans” for a reshuffle next week, Times Radio’s Tom Newton Dunn reported this week that environment secretary George Eustice was digging in so hard against tariff-free meat imports from Australia that it risked becoming a resignation matter for him.

That said, the PM appears to be leaning towards Eustice’s opponent in the Cabinet row, trade secretary Liz Truss, and Eustice has not yet quit.

However, if he does, that could be the catalyst for a wider shake-up of Johnson’s team.

And even if Eustice does not resign, he is seen as “quite an easy person to get rid of” and “not on the green agenda” the government is now pushing, according to one source.

If the reshuffle does go ahead, it appears that the great offices of state will not change with chancellor Rishi Sunak, foreign secretary Dominic Raab and home secretary Priti Patel all widely seen as safe in their positions.

Patel seems likely to keep her job despite becoming embroiled in a scandal over her alleged bullying of officials, as she is a useful figure to shore up the Tories’ right wing.

As one insider puts it: “That woman has staying power and she knows what her brand is, and do you want to piss off Iain Duncan Smith and all that crowd?

“Who else is Boris going to put there, if it’s all about the red wall?”

That is likely to make the central figures of any upcoming reshuffle Michael Gove and Matt Hancock.

Not the most popular in No.10 or among Tory lockdown-sceptics, Hancock has long been seen as under threat, although backbench MPs tell me they appreciate how much he makes himself available to answer their questions, or record video messages for their constituents.

But if the health secretary is moved, many insiders are tipping Gove to take over, believing his problem-solving policy brain is perfectly suited to finally tackling the thorny issue of social care reform.

One Tory source also insists that Gove has moved on from the education secretary who battled “the blob” alongside Cummings to become a more consensual figure who got onside with lawyers as justice secretary and farmers as environment secretary – a skill that will be vital if he is given the task of driving through huge changes to social care.

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Education secretary Gavin Williamson is likely to be moved

Gavin Williamson meanwhile is almost certain to be moved from his education secretary job following the exams fiasco and other mis-steps.

But Johnson is still said to be “pretty loyal to Gavin” due to the key role he played in his Tory leadership campaign and has been telling people inside No.10 that “Gavin is not leaving Cabinet”.

“This implication of that is: even the PM seems to be saying he’s probably leaving his post,” a source said.

“I just don’t know how you do a reshuffle that seems to anyone fair unless Gavin is gone.”

He could go back to chief whip, a role he performed successfully in the past, replacing Mark Spencer who could be in line for a promotion.

Controversial communities secretary Robert Jenrick could be saved by virtue of being an ally of Sunak.

But Scotland secretary Alister Jack is thought to be at risk, with Andrew Bowie potentially in line for the job as a younger, more dynamic figure to take the independence fight to the SNP.

Sajid Javid is meanwhile tipped for a comeback, although Johnson may struggle to find a role senior enough for the former chancellor, who quit the government last year in a row with Downing Street over sharing a team of special advisers.

Kit Malthouse, a long-time ally of Johnson who worked under him at London City Hall, is also being widely tipped for a promotion.

And Anne-Marie Trevelyan could return to the Cabinet after she was effectively made redundant when her department for international development was subsumed by the Foreign Office, with Johnson thought to be keen to boost the number of women in Cabinet.

The reshuffle could be most interesting in the junior roles where Johnson will be looking to improve and diversify the pipeline of talent to the Cabinet.

Tory figures mention new MPs Laura Trott, Clare Coutinho and Saqib Bhatti as “the shining stars” of the 2019 intake who could be brought on the payroll.

But several sources question the wisdom of carrying out a reshuffle next week, with July seen as a more likely date, while the traditional wargaming whiteboard has not yet been erected on the walls inside Downing Street.

“If you do it at the beginning of holidays then you send everyone away and they’ve got the chance to feel better in Tuscany don’t they?’ one MP says.
“I don’t get why you’d do it before the end of July, I can’t see an incentive.” 

Whatever happens next week, at some point sooner rather than later Johnson is going to have to decide which of his ministers to leave high and dry.




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