Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.
A reshuffle in which Penny Mordaunt is sacked and Priti Patel is given one of the top three jobs was always going to provoke negative comment. Patel has many talents. But for her to re-enter the cabinet into one of the great offices of state after such a short time is eyebrow-raising to say the least.
It used to be the case that anyone who resigned ministerial office, or was sacked from it due to an impropriety would be expected to face the voters before being reincarnated into ministerial office. That was certainly the convention operated by previous Conservative Prime Ministers.
Having said that, it is truly a sign of the times when two British Asians now occupy two of the three great offices of state. There are now four British Asians in the cabinet now and two black/mixed race members. Ethnic minorities comprise around 13 per cent of the UK populations, but 18 per cent of the ministers sitting around the cabinet table. That’s real progress.
Rather more disappointingly, there are only six female members of the cabinet, yet women comprise 51 per cent of the population. Work to do.
This is without doubt the most right-of-centre Cabinet in modern times – and for the avoidance of doubt, I see nothing wrong with that at all. It is a cabinet designed with one aim in mind – to get us out of the EU by October 31.
But the view that this is a total Leave Cabinet is for the birds. By my reckoning, 13 of the people sitting around the cabinet table voted Leave and 20 voted Remain. Clearly many of those have pivoted towards Leave since, and have all had to sign up to the possibility of leaving with no deal if necessary. And quite right too.
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As you read this, there are only 97 days until October 31. Few people can see the pathway to leaving the EU without a deal. There are a few signs that Dublin is experiencing a squeaky bum, and may be willing to urge their EU colleagues to shift their position on the Backstop, albeit only marginally.
If we do leave with a deal, surely it would have to be alongside a slightly tweaked version of the Withdrawal Agreement. The question is: would a few tweaks be enough to get it through the Commons?
It seems difficult to imagine any document which would attract the support of both the Gaukeward Squad and the ERG. It may well be that this has been factored in by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Dominic Cummings. They will go through the motions – but that’s about it.
If the EU refuses to negotiate, they’re not going to lose too much sleep. Any such refusal will be seen by the public as typically unreasonable, and if it leads to us leaving under No Deal, the EU will be blamed, rather than the new Government.
One factor few are considering is that the EU 27 may become so enraged by what they will see as Johnson’s unreasonable stance that they themselves may decide that offering to extend Article 50 beyond October 31 is one step too far. It’s entirely possible that Emmanuel Macron may well decide to veto an extension, as he apparently nearly did in April.
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Tim Shipman must be licking his lips. He has become the country’s official chronicler of the whole Brexit process. His first two books have been best-selling corkers. I can hardly wait to read his account of the events of the last few days.
Forming a Cabinet is one of the trickiest things that a new Prime Minister has to get to grips with. Predicting who will be in or out of a new cabinet is one of the exercises that political journalists and commentators try to carry out – with mixed success.
Strangely they (we) are rarely held to account for our predictions, despite them being available for all to go back to. For myself, I predicted 18 of the May Cabinet would be out – I got it wrong by one. There were 17. I was the first to predict (in my Sunday Telegraph column) that Priti Patel would become Home Secretary and that Grant Shapps would become Transport Secretary.
I also reckoned that Jacob Rees-Mogg would join the Cabinet, although I got the job wrong. In retrospect, I should have worked out that Leader of the House would be a good fit for this devoted House of Commons man. Apart from that, I completely failed to see the removal of Penny Mordaunt, but then again, so did everyone else. I could go on…
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I have now written two long read profiles and interviews of politicians for the Sunday Times magazine. I profiled Gavin Williamson in December, and Penny Mordaunt last Sunday. Well, we know what happened next. I wouldn’t blame Ben Wallace if he declined to cooperate with any similar article I might be intending to write!
Of course, now that we have a new Prime Minister the betting markets are already turning their minds to who might be the next one. I asked David Williams from the Rank Organisation who was heading that market and was somewhat surprised when he told me it was Rory Stewart.
Given there were 17 sackings or resignations, we can expect some pretty tough jostling position over the next few months as to who would be the King or Queen over the water in the event of Johnson self-combusting. There are quite a few contenders.