Boris takes the reins

by Gideon Hymas
Boris Johnson will today head to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen who will formally invite him to form a government.

Boris Johnson will today head to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen who will formally invite him to form a government.

However, work is already well underway to appoint his team of advisers and ministers, and he has already announced one critically important appointment – his Chief Whip.

The role of Chief Whip is often described as that of "government enforcer", ensuring party loyalty by any means necessary. He has chosen Mark Spencer MP – a rural farmer by background – who is popular among the Conservative party and has few enemies. Spencer is considered a wise choice by Boris Johnson partly because he voted Remain in the 2016 referendum. Some say this demonstrates Boris’ ambition to recruit the broadest support of Conservative MPs, an unsurprising approach given his very thin working majority in the House of Commons. What will also be interesting to observe is how Boris seeks to win the support of other parties in the House of Commons, including the buoyed Liberal Democrats who have recently chosen a new leader themselves and have a fresh confidence about them.

Once Boris has delivered his first speech as PM at around 4pm today, he will finalise his new Cabinet and hopes to make several announcements this evening. This process will continue into tomorrow, and possibly Friday.

Boris Johnson is expected to appoint a record number of Cabinet ministers from ethnic minority backgrounds, and he will also increase the number of women who are full Cabinet members from the current total of five. Names being circulated this morning suggest the likes of Priti Patel, Alok Sharma, Rishi Sunak, Oliver Dowden, Tracey Crouch and Robert Jenrick as being front runners for senior positions. 

Health

The position of health secretary is likely (though not definite) to change. The current health secretary, Matt Hancock, has worked hard to support Boris Johnson after he himself withdrew from the Conservative leadership race having concluded he would not get enough support of Conservative MPs. Matt Hancock has since played a key role in Johnson’s “transition team” for government, and it is worth noting that he was chosen by Boris’ team to be interviewed on the main broadcast shows in the UK this morning.

Yet, Boris and Hancock have some disagreements on health. On Monday at 7pm – the night before the Conservative leadership race was announced – Theresa May forced through the publication of the Department of Health and Social Care’s preventing illness consultation which Matt Hancock was hoping to delay as it contained policies Boris Johnson opposed, including extending the sugar tax.

It seems possible that Matt Hancock may take a more senior role in the Cabinet working even closer with Boris Johnson, so it will be interesting to see how – if at all – this impacts the development of health policy and whether Boris Johnson could be ‘leant on’ by Matt Hancock on critical health issues. At the moment, it is too difficult to call who would replace Matt Hancock as health secretary if he does move on, but fortunately we do not have long to wait to find out. 

Boris Johnson has stated one of his top priorities is to tackle the crisis of social care in the UK. Johnson will reportedly push ahead with an “insurance-style” plan drawn up by Matt Hancock for a voluntary scheme, in which over-40s pay 2.5 percent of their wages into a savings plan every year. Second order priorities include tax cuts for high earners, increasing the number of police and improving access to affordable housing. 

EU reaction

EU leaders have given warm words to the news that Boris will become PM, including the outgoing Commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, who wrote a letter to Boris Johnson wishing him “every success” in appointing his top team. It seems that, Brexit aside, key EU states will want to continue working closely with the UK on critical global issues (Russia sanctions, Iran or human rights protections) but this certainly does not guarantee Boris Johnson any significant wriggle room in terms of changing the Brexit deal.

Boris has repeatedly made clear that no-deal is bad for Brussels, and while this may be true any amendments to the withdrawal agreement would only be possible if the EU deem them workable or if Brussels is confident that the new PM has a majority in the UK House of Commons to vote a Brexit deal through.