Theresa May has promised to create a new Department for Brexit headed by a Leave supporter. The best place to begin mulling what her Cabinet will look like is to start from there.
Which Leaver will head the new Department for Brexit…
The supporters of Brexit in Cabinet are Chris Grayling, Michael Gove, Theresa Villiers, John Whittingdale and Priti Patel. As the Chairman of May’s campaign, Grayling might be expected to take the post. Gove would undertake it with panache, but his stock is damaged and his relationship with May is poor. Villiers is a former MEP and her Northern Ireland experience means that she is now an experienced negotiator. The most senior pro-May backbench Brexiteers are David Davis and Liam Fox. The former has written in detail about how the negotiation might work.
…And who will take charge of creating a new foreign policy?
The emphatic message sent by the establishment of this new department will be that the Foreign Office isn’t culturally attuned to the job of Brexit – and, indeed, needs an overhaul from top to bottom. The foundation of its policy for over 60 years – membership of the European Project – collapsed with the referendum. May will need a Foreign Secretary who can re-think foreign policy without seeking to re-absorb the Brexit department: she will want to beware of a turf war at the heart of government. This is another reason to avoid the appointment of George Osborne.
Grayling or Gove or Davis or Fox have the seniority to be Foreign Secretary. But May might not want to have both the Foreign Office and the Brexit Department headed by Leavers. Philip Hammond will surely move; the department needs to break with the past The other senior Remainers in Cabinet are Michael Fallon and Jeremy Hunt. Or May could send for a woman Foreign Secretary – perhaps Justine Greening, her supporter, or Amber Rudd, if the latter can contain her Remain enthusiasms. Hunt would seem the most likely to try re-thinking foreign policy from scratch.
Replacing May at the Home Office
This appears to me to be the other big post most likely to take a Leaver: Grayling or Fox or Davis or, just possibly, Gove or even Patel. The key task of the new incumbent will be getting net immigration down. Fallon is the Remainer perhaps best suited to the role.
Who can deliver May’s Joe Chamberlain economy at the Treasury?…
The economic thinking in May’s campaign launch speech yesterday was unlike Osborne’s in key respects. The Chancellor’s policy mix has included housebuilding, quantitative easing, a cut in the top rate of tax, grands projets, and the Northern Powerhouse. One might call it HS2 economics.
In her speech, May enthused about housebuilding and cities – but criticised q.e openly, urged cheaper energy, pledged workers on company boards and more shareholder power over remuneration, and called for a “proper industrial strategy”. This looks like a more intense focus on lower earners and savers, and a heavy stress on intervention and planning, with fewer policy gimmicks. This might be called Joe Chamberlain economics, after the radical-turned-Tory politician and Mayor of Birmingham – where she made the speech; the choice of location was no accident – who has been studied and praised on this site by our columnist and her principal aide, Nick Timothy.
It is not at all easy to see which Remainer or Leaver is best placed to champion this way of thinking at the Treasury. Philip Hammond and Fallon, the two most senior Remainers, were raised in the age of Thatcher. Fox and Davis, two of the most senior Leavers, are cut from much the same cloth.
And, more pressingly, at BIS?…
Ditto. If the Foreign Office and the Treasury stay in the hands of Remainers, there is a strong case for putting a Leaver in BIS, if Sajid Javid is to be moved – and his economic instincts certainly look very different from those apparent in May’s speech. Of the other Remainers, Fallon has experience in the department.
A minor Cabinet reworking or a major one?
I have suggested that Davis and especially Fox might come into the Cabinet, but May has also to consider Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom, if either are willing to serve. Johnson might be offered the Ministry of Culture (again): it is unlikely that May will feel obliged to offer him a great office of state. Leadsom could move up a rung to head the Climate Change Department, if Rudd is moved elsewhere. Gove might do best to hunker down at Justice to complete his work on prisons – and perhaps have an overview of public service reform in the age of Brexit more widely.
But if new appointments are to be made then some familiar faces must go. In terms either of intake or age or both, Hammond and Fallon are near the exit door. So are Patrick McLoughlin and Whittingdale. Hunt has served in Cabinet since 2010. But a new Prime Minister whose 60th birthday approaches is unlikely to frown on experience. It may well be that there are some unexpected culls and sackings, and that May undertakes a much bigger Cabinet restructuring than is expected. We can certainly expect the number of women to rise.
If so, she will look to her supporters, and to the Centre-Left of the Party, as well as to the pro-May Brexiteers – maybe to former Ministers such as Damian Green, to present ones like James Brokenshire and Karen Bradley, and to allies in the leadership election such as Brandon Lewis, Richard Harrington and Gavin Williamson. Justine Greening must be an outside shot for Party Chairman or for promotion – Heathrow expansion looks dead in the water now – and Mark Harper might stay as Chief Whip to offer continuity.