When Andrea Leadsom withdrew her candidacy on Monday, more than a few Eurosceptics feared that it heralded doom for Brexiteers under Theresa May. They would be sidelined and silenced, with the top jobs given to Remainers and the responsibility for Brexit placed in the hands of someone who would oversee the process of watering it down. They would, some predicted, be held back by a Remain-supporting Foreign Secretary, too. More than one Leaver MP privately feared that as a result we would not, in fact, leave the EU.
The first wave of May’s reshuffle has not followed that script, though. Not only is David Davis – an extremely robust Brexiteer – the minister in charge of the exit process, but the Foreign Office will be run by Boris Johnson, the most prominent Leave campaigner of all. Joining them at the Cabinet table will be Liam Fox, who takes control of international trade from the current split between Business and the FCO – another person unlikely to tolerate any backsliding on the promise that “Brexit means Brexit”.
Yes, there will be Remainers at the top of government, too – not least the new Prime Minister and the Chancellor. But these appointments show that true Leavers will be alongside them with specific power over the process of escaping the EU – good news for the 17.4 million voters, over 60 per cent of Party members and 130+ Tory MPs who voted Leave and now want to ensure it really happens. Even Nigel Farage seems quite happy with the news:
— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) 13 July 2016
It’s a wise political move, given the risk of alienating Leave voters and MPs if the reshuffle was misjudged, but it’s also a bold one. Davis, Johnson and Fox – none of these are shrinking violets or yes men, so bringing them into the fold is a sign from May that she is confident she can and will live up to their expectations. If she doesn’t, we can expect to hear about it.
I wrote the other day that a reshuffle is a bit like working out the seating plan for a wedding, in that there are many different branches of the family and groups of friends, all expecting to be invited, various of whom should not be sat next to each other and any of whom will be deeply aggrieved if they are left out. May has other considerations to fulfil beyond the Brexiteers, and must still juggle the balance of modernisers, traditionalists, northerners, female MPs, ethnic minority MPs, city MPs, rural MPs et cetera, et cetera. But on the most pressing and most controversial front, showing she really means to fulfil the mandate of the referendum, the early news is good.