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Every day I'm reshuffling

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Every day I'm reshuffling
Cabinet ministers await their fate

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The Telegraph

Thursday February 13 2020

Front Bench

 

Good morning. The Cabinet reshuffle has finally arrived. It'll be smaller than expected, but should still set the tone for the Johnson premiership

Ministers braced for Cabinet reshuffle

By Daniel Capurro,
Front Bench Editor

The reshuffle is finally here. After weeks of speculation, the Prime Minister is set to tweak his Cabinet to prepare it for Britain’s post-Brexit future and the “levelling up” agenda.

This is not the sweeping rearrangement of Whitehall, with departments merged, abolished and spun off, that was once suggested. Nor will it be much of a purge. Many of the names once tipped for the chopping block are believed safe.

Westminster is expecting keyhole surgery, not a transplant.

– Who’s up, who’s down? –

The biggest uncertainty surrounds Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, while the latest person being talked up as a rising star is Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Wallace seemed uncertain about his future yesterday and dropped out of attending the Munich security conference. Dominic Cummings, the PM’s chief adviser, is thought to want Wallace out. The Times and The Sun, however, reports that he is safe.

Trevelyan, meanwhile, continues her rapid climb. The Brexiteer MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed became an MP in 2015 and only became a junior minister last summer. She was made minister for the armed forces after the election in December and is now in line for a Cabinet job.

Where she goes will depend on who is sacked, but International Development appears to be a likely destination. Alok Sharma, the current holder of that office, is expected to be promoted, possibly to Business Secretary to replace Andrea Leadsom, who is expected to be dumped.

Nicky Morgan, who resigned as an MP before the election but was made a peer and asked to carry on as Culture Secretary temporarily, is expected to go. So too, apparently, is Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland Secretary who sealed a deal to restore power-sharing at Stormont. Even before that achievement, his position was under threat and there have been claims that Downing Street was blindsided by some of the concessions Smith made in the deal.

Other casualties are expected to be Theresa Villiers, the Environment Secretary, and Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General. Promotees could include George Eustice, Oliver Dowden, Suella Braverman and Gillian Keegan.

We may also get an answer as to who will be placed in charge of the COP26 climate conference.

– Reading the runes –

So what does that all mean to anyone normal enough not to recognise most of those names?

The abandonment of major structural reform is a sign of pragmatism and of the simple fact that Boris Johnson doesn’t have years to start delivering. But the limited reshuffle is also a reflection of the damage three years of Brexit stalemate and infighting has done to the party.

The middle rank of ministers who should’ve joined the Cabinet table by now was badly damaged by the losses of 2017 and the defections and rebellions of 2018 and 2019. On top of that, hopeless ministers were only kept in the Cabinet at the expense of rising talent because of Theresa May’s weak position and need for Brexit balance.

All of which has left Boris Johnson unable to perform a sweeping clearout for the simple reason that there aren’t enough experienced up-and-comers to bring in. It’s also what has left him struggling to improve the Cabinet’s gender balance.

In part, this reshuffle looks like an effort to address that, by moving newer MPs up the ministerial ladder and into the less high-pressured Cabinet posts.

– Chairman vs control freak –

The reshuffle is also, it appears, an attempt to genuinely move on from the Brexit divisions of the past four years. Those ministers for the chop and MPs set for promotion are from both sides of the debate and there doesn’t appear to be any particular attempt to balance them out.

The real question hanging over this reshuffle, though, is whether this is the beginning of Johnson’s chairman-style premiership. The briefing war with Cummings continues, with our Lobby team reporting that ministers are unhappy with the control he exerts over the PM.

How much freedom this new Cabinet has to do its job should show us the real nature of this administration.

PS: Today The Telegraph launches a new podcast revealing the untold story of the British role in the Trump-Russia scandal. Our US Editor Ben Riley-Smith has been tracking down those who saw what happened firsthand. Episode one is out today. Head here, or wherever you normally get your podcasts to subscribe.

 

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Westminster Round-up

Hang on a sec | It’s not just the reshuffle that’s been watered down. The Government has put a pin in its major shakeup of the online duty of care regulation. Instead of a big announcement of the plans, yesterday there was an interim response to a consultation. The Government is expected to tweak, and probably water down, its proposals before bringing them forward later in the year.

The Government insists that the decision has nothing to do with a backlash from tech companies, but was because the existing plans were too broad. However, there does appear to be concern among ministers at the criminal sanctions element of the proposals. If implemented, tech companies such as YouTube and Facebook would have to nominate a named individual among their senior management who would be held liable for breaches of the new law and could face criminal prosecution.

The delay has triggered an unsurprising backlash from campaigners for tougher laws. The future bill, whenever it arrives, is intended to reduce online harms for children such as websites which encourage self-harm and suicide.

 

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