Thursday, 25 July 2019

A new government forms

The ritual transfer of executive power took place on Wednesday 24 July 2019.  The outgoing Prime Minister (Theresa May) attended the House of Commons for her final Prime Minister's Questions and then went to Buckingham Palace to tender her resignation to HM The Queen.  Mrs May will have advised the Queen to appoint Boris Johnson, the successful candidate in the Conservative Party leadership election.  Mr Johnson then attended the palace and was duly appointed Prime Minister.  This time-honoured ritual emphasised the constitutional facts that HM The Queen is Head of State and that the government is Her Majesty's Government.

Mr Johnson returned to No.10 Downing Street, spoke briefly
to the waiting media, and then started the business of forming a new executive (government).

The new government is markedly different from the previous even if it is formed from the same political party!  More than half of Theresa May's old cabinet, including leadership rival Jeremy Hunt, quit or were sacked.  The key Ministerial appointments are set out by BBC News 25 July 2019 and HERE.
  • Home Secretary - Priti Patel
  • Foreign Secretary - Dominic Raab
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer - Sajid Javid
  • Defence - Ben Wallace
  • International Trade - Elizabeth Truss
  • Brexit secretary - Stephen Barclay (retains post)
  • Justice and Lord Chancellor - Robert Buckland QC (a former Solicitor General) 
  • Attorney General - Geoffrey Cox QC (retains post)
  • Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and no-deal Brexit planning - Michael Gove
  • Health secretary - Matt Hancock (retains post)
  • Education secretary - Gavin Williamson
  • Nicky Morgan - Culture secretary
  • Business secretary - Andrea Leadsom
  • Work and pensions secretary - Amber Rudd (retains post)
  • Leader of the Commons - Jacob Rees-Mogg:
  • See the full cabinet here
This is a remarkable change of executive at a time when the UK faces major challenges due to leaving the European Union (EU) on 31 October 2019.  The new executive appears determined to make that happen whether it is with a withdrawal agreement or without.  The House of Commons, where the government (with DUP support) has a wafer thin majority, appears to be against a no-deal exit but there is no legislation in place to actually prevent the government taking that course.

As the Institute for Government observed - "perhaps the main story of the day is the comprehensiveness of the Cabinet clear-out.  18 ministers have left Cabinet altogether, more than in similar transitions of power between two prime ministers of the same party - Blair to Brown, Cameron to May, and Thatcher to Major (where only four left).  Only six Cabinet ministers remain in the same post, while eight of those appointed today are returning Cabinet members (including a number who resigned under May and one - Gavin Williamson - who was sacked by her)."

Non-ministerial appointments are also important. Dominic Cummings, the former head of the Vote Leave campaign who was found in contempt of parliament in March for refusing to appear before MPs, is to be a senior adviser to Boris Johnson in a controversial appointment - The Guardian 24 July 2019

There can be no doubt that the new executive is a Leave the EU administration.  Writing for The Guardian 24 July 2019,  Jonathan Freedland observed - "leavers’ control over – and therefore responsibility for – Brexit will now be total. There will be no one else to blame, and no place to hide. This is a Vote Leave government now."

There is, of course, always the EU to be blamed and I would expect attempts to be made to do this.  The facts tell another story.  The "red-lines" for Brexit talks were set by Theresa May in her Lancaster House speech and were eventually embedded in the Chequers proposals.  In the Brexit negotiations the EU acted in its own interests and in the interests of the 27 states that will remain members including the Republic of Ireland.  In November 2018, Theresa May achieved a withdrawal agreement and a political declaration but the House of Commons rejected the agreement on three occasions.  Under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 an agreement may not be ratified without the approval of the House of Commons.  Rejection of the withdrawal agreement was principally because of the so-called "backstop" relating to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Following a meeting of the EU Parliament's Brexit Steering Group (BSG) held on 24 July, a statement noted that an orderly exit was in the interests of both parties.  - read the Statement.   The EU statement comments that -

"an orderly exit is only possible if citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the backstop, that in all circumstances ensures no hardening of the border on the Island of Ireland, safeguards the Good Friday Agreement and protects the integrity of the Single Market, are guaranteed.

The Withdrawal Agreement agreed between the EU and the UK Government provides these guarantees. The BSG reaffirmed its commitment to the Withdrawal Agreement. It noted that the UK Government, pursuant to European Council Decision (EU) 2019/584, has agreed that the Agreement cannot be reopened.

The BSG is open, however, to consider changes to the Political Declaration, in particular if such changes provided for much greater detail and a more ambitious future EU-UK partnership such that deployment of the Irish backstop would not be necessary.”

Given the new drive to "deliver Brexit" in the remaining time, the British government will need to present any new proposals to the EU within days.  In a letter to Boris Johnson, the outgoing President of the EU Council (Donald Tusk) said that he looked forward to meeting Mr Johnson "to discuss - in detail - our cooperation."

The UK Parliament goes into recess after today's business and is scheduled to return on 3 September 2019 - Recess dates.  Parliament is adjourned in this period.  A recall if possible (see Erskine May) but that is very much in the control of the executive.  The absence of Parliament obviously removes immediate accountability.   See this discussion by Professor Meg Russell and Daniel Gover for the possibility of MPs exerting political pressure to obtain a recall.

How long will the new government survive?  This is the "how long is a piece of string question" but the parliamentary arithmetic is not favourable to the government surviving longer term.  If Johnson ends up pursuing a no-deal Brexit then MPs will almost certainly move a Vote of No Confidence under the Fixed-term (Parliaments) Act 2011.  The outcome of such a vote will depend in part on the stance taken by more moderate Conservative MPs and also former Ministers who were either removed from post by Johnson or who felt they could not serve in his government.

If Johnson manages to secure some form of "deal" with the EU then its approval by the Commons will be required.  The withdrawal agreement and the political declaration exist side-by-side (previous post.  Unless a deal is reached with the EU and approved by the House of Commons then the political declaration will fall as well.

The days ahead will be interesting !
  1. Boris Johnson's first speech as Prime Minister: 24 July 2019
  2. Theresa May's final speech as Prime Minister: 24 July 2019
    BBC News 25 July - New Cabinet meets

No comments:

Post a Comment