PM’s cabinet reshuffle aimed at delivering on election promises

When Boris Johnson became Conservative party leader last July he assembled a war cabinet with one battle in mind: Brexit.

Leading Brexiteers were put in pole positions as the doubters and disloyal were purged.

That summer re-shuffle was the most brutal clear out in living memory, with 17 cabinet ministers replaced.

It was Mr Johnson who began the Brexit revolution back in 2016 and in December he went on to win the war handsomely.

Now his task is to rule well.

With the battleground of Brexit in his rear view mirror the prime minister needs a different type of top team.

What he needs now is a delivery cabinet to turn his election promises into tangible policy.

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The much-vaunted overhaul of the Whitehall government machine – from creating an expanded business department to a new standalone immigration and borders – has been put on the back burner for now.

Mr Johnson and his team know those who voted for them aren’t really interested in how the back office works, they’re interested in what is happening front of house.

The prime minister has promised new hospitals, more nurses, GP appointments, more police officers, new buses and bike lanes.

Despite banning the B-word, he also has the enormous task of preparing the UK for Brexit when the transition period ends in December and Britain moves into a new trading relationship – still to be negotiated – with the EU.

He has to try to strike a future trade deal with Brussels, as well as trying to secure new arrangements with the EU on aviation, the regulation of medicines, security, and data sharing.

The government will have to prepare for new bureaucracy around the borders – Michael Gove this week warned of checks and friction at ports and crossings – as well as building its own regulatory functions in Whitehall to replace those delegated from Brussels in a host of areas from medicines to chemicals.

Brexit: What now?

It’s a daunting in-tray. With all that going on, the last thing the prime minister wants is a drastic change in his top team – which is why this cabinet reshuffle is expected to be moderate.

“This is the year of delivery,” is how one government figure put it to me. “We don’t need a revolution.”

This means that the big jobs are likely to go unchanged, with Chancellor Sajid Javid remaining in No 11, Dominic Raab staying at the Foreign Office and Priti Patel remaining home secretary.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps are expected to stay in post.

Cabinet minister Oliver Dowden is expected to be promoted to cabinet – perhaps to culture secretary to replace Baroness Morgan, who is standing down.

The international development secretary Alok Sharma is also in line for promotion.

One thing to watch out for is whether the prime minister picks this moment to clear out some of the old allies who he kept closer to him when he was running a minority government, but who might be more dispensable to him now that he has a 80-strong majority.

One such figure being talked about is Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, who has been a long-term ally of the prime minister but who has clashed with No 10 over issues such as Huawei.

And what about the women?

David Cameron set himself a target of women accounting for a third of his government before becoming prime minister in 2010.

Mr Johnson isn’t doing that, neither is he expected to increase the number of women around his top table from the seven currently serving as full cabinet ministers (Cameron was rounded into for only getting to five back in 2014).

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The numbers might not be improving around the cabinet table but there is expected to be a change of guard among the senior women.

Defence minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan is in line for a promotion, while prisons minister Lucy Frazer has also been rumoured as a possible contender for promotion.

Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary, is rumoured to be in danger along with Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary.

It will be in the junior ministerial ranks that Mr Johnson will try to push for better gender balance and build with a string of promotions that could result in a 50-50 split at this level.

Gillian Keegan, ministerial aide to the health secretary, is in line for promotion as is Suella Braverman, a former junior Brexit minister.

Further down the food chain, the government is going to try to do more to promote female talent by ensuring that 60% of the ministerial aide roles – the lowest rung on the ladder – are women by the summer (the figure is currently 18%).

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