This afternoon the Government announced three junior appointments to fill the vacancies left by yesterday’s resignations.
Stephen Hammond – Minister of State, Health & Social Care
In some ways, this is a bit of a surprise. With Theresa May facing a make-or-break Commons vote on her Brexit deal, one might have expected her to use this opportunity to buy off one or two of the wavering rebels with a little patronage – as premiers are wont to do.
Hammond certainly gave the Government trouble on earlier votes, but at this point he’s a pro-deal ex-Remain voice on the backbenches. Whether or not this decision represents optimism or merely fatalism on May’s part remains to be seen.
Notwithstanding all that, however, he is a very experienced former minister who has been keen to return to Government. Combined with his antipathy to the European Research Group, it therefore seems unlikely that he’s going to cause any trouble by resigning.
John Penrose – Minister of State, Northern Ireland
Another able former minister, Penrose is a slightly odd case on things Brexit. Described by the BBC as “ardently pro-Remain“, he has nonetheless signed off letters from the European Research Group in the past.
Another loyalist, the Public Whip reports that Penrose has only once rebelled against the Government in the current Parliament. Significantly, however, that was on a piece of Northern Irish legislation: namely an amendment aiming to force Karen Bradley, his new boss, to justify how officials could continue to implement the Province’s strict abortion laws.
Not only is this another opportunity not taken to bind waverers to the Government line, therefore, but it is also another indication that the Prime Minister is prepared to further aggravate the Democratic Unionists – and perhaps change Northern Irish policy, too. Quite how this administration could continue to govern until 2022 without them is another matter.
Kwasi Kwarteng – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Exiting the European Union
Unlike Hammond and Penrose, Kwarteng is a Brexiteer and supported a Leave vote during the referendum. His elevation is nonetheless effectively an internal promotion as far as the numbers go, as he was previously serving as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Philip Hammond.
He now shoulders the burden of trying to help his new boss, Steve Barclay, in preparing to wind up the Brexit department and – in the seemingly likely event that the withdrawal agreement is voted down by the Commons – preparing the nation for No Deal.