Who would be who in Theresa May’s cabinet?

The incoming prime minister has said she will appoint a Leaver as Secretary of State for Brexit, but who would it be? And who would be her Chancellor, Home Secretary and Foreign Secretary?

John Rentoul
Monday 11 July 2016 15:39

So many predictions have been confounded recently that it seems reckless to make more. Let us therefore be reckless. Now that Theresa May is our next prime minister, the pressing question is what May’s plan for Brexit is, and we look forward to hearing more of it. But another important question is who will have which jobs in May’s cabinet. This is not merely gossip about personalities, because the men and women matter as much as the measures.

That is why one of May’s first pledges was to appoint someone who had campaigned for Leave as Secretary of State for Brexit. My guess is that this would be Chris Grayling rather than one of the two most prominent leaders of the Leave campaign, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Like May herself, Grayling is the underwhelming but logical choice. The first non-lawyer to be Lord Chancellor (his career before politics was in television), he was shunted from the Justice Department last year to allow Gove to reform prisons. He currently manages Commons business as Leader of the House, but he is a Leaver and he is managing May’s leadership campaign.

Theresa May vs Andrea Leadsom - who will be the next PM?

As for the great offices of state, I think May would probably make the swap that David Cameron was contemplating Before the Fall, moving George Osborne to Foreign Secretary and Philip Hammond to Chancellor.

Osborne wouldn’t actually have “Rest of the World” in brackets after his title, but he would be responsible for everywhere except Europe. It would be a serious job, which he would enjoy, and which would still give him the prospect – he’s only 45, after all – of the top job at some point in the next decade or two. The only question is whether he would be able to resist meddling and trying to prove how clever he is.

Hammond would again be the underwhelming but logical choice for the Treasury, with Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, falling victim to the rule that it is best to leave ministers where they are for as long as possible.

Her own vacancy at the Home Office could be filled by Amber Rudd, the Energy and Climate Change Secretary who was a combative Remainer, or by Jeremy Hunt, who needs to move out of Health so that the junior doctors’ hate-figure is taken out of the dispute. The new Health Secretary could be Rudd or Jane Ellison, an emollient junior minister in the department.

What, though, for Leadsom, now that she has betrayed her inexperience by (a) saying it would be “horrible” to suggest that she as a mother would be a better leader than the childless May, before (b) going on to suggest precisely that, and (c) criticising the The Times for reporting both statements. The idea that this was a cunning Trump-style plan to say outrageous things has now been laid to rest by her withdrawal from the race.

Her daydream of being Johnson’s Chancellor, if only he hadn’t left the letter behind, could end in the reality of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Very important to have a Leaver in charge of sorting out the morass of EU habitat directives, May could say, as she switches the incumbent Liz Truss to Energy and Climate Change.

Leadsom and Johnson are the two Leavers who would have to be offered cabinet posts. Johnson could go to Culture, Media and Sport so that the red-tops can call him the Minister of Fun. Gove’s punishment for his serial betrayals could be to keep him where he is. May could tell him she believes in the rehabilitation of offenders, and that prison reform is very important to deliver her One Nation vision of social justice. But if reoffending rates haven’t fallen by a quarter in four years, she could say, out you will go.

In addition, it would make sense to offer Priti Patel, the Leaver and employment minister who has the right to attend Cabinet, a promotion. She could take Grayling’s job as Leader of the House.

The rest of the Cabinet could remain unchanged. Cameron was praised for keeping ministers in place for longer than usual – partly because the complexities of coalition made reshuffles harder. I doubt that he would want a post: he would want to set up a charitable foundation to promote his causes of foreign aid and the National Citizen Service, making contributions in the Commons as a backbencher on things that matter to him.

Finally, the creation of a new cabinet post to handle the Brexit negotiations would mean one of the existing posts would have to go. Oliver Letwin, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cameron’s progress-chaser, could be thanked and asked to make a sacrifice in the national interest.

This may seem a tiny patch of lawn to be inspecting at a time when the vast landscape of British politics is beginning to realign into a Leave party and a Remain party. The old Conservative and Unionist party may turn into an England Alone party, while Labour, and possibly a rainbow alliance of others, could become the European Unionist party.

But while that is happening, there is Britain’s new relationship with the EU to negotiate. And this is my best guess at the team that will negotiate it.

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