Theresa May was appointed Prime Minister, after the Conservative Party leadership contest was cut short this week when Andrea Leadsom dropped out of the race prematurely. David Cameron tendered his resignation following Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, after which May met with the Queen. Shortly after she delivered her first speech as Prime Minister outside Downing Street, outlining her intention to pursue a one-nation Conservative social policy agenda in order to create a fairer Britain.
May spent the following twenty-four hours appointing her Cabinet. The headline announcements were Boris Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary and Philip Hammond as Chancellor. David Davis and Liam Fox were given two key negotiation roles in Brexit Secretary of State and International Trade Secretary, whilst Cameron allies George Osborne, Michael Gove, Oliver Letwin and Nicky Morgan all got the sack. After a difficult week for the pair, both the former PM and Chancellor were spotted enjoying a coffee and pastry in Notting Hill yesterday, with Michael Gove reportedly found looking for holiday reading in Waterstones.
The Labour Party’s National Executive Committee confirmed Jeremy Corbyn will now automatically be on the ballot for the leadership challenge. He will face his former Shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle and former Shadow Work & Pensions Secretary Owen Smith as challengers.
What the papers said
The fallout from Britain’s vote to Leave the EU continued, unsurprisingly, to dominate the headlines this week. Theresa May has said ‘Brexit means Brexit’, however Stephen Glover of the Daily Mail asked ‘will Britain ever leave the EU?’ With the pro-European UK Parliament wishing to retain access to the single market Glover suggests protracted negotiations could last up to 6 years with the EU. As he writes, ‘we are in uncharted territory’.
Britain has a new Prime Minister. Despite being at the top of politics for 6 years, a lot remains unknown about Theresa May in the consciousness of the public. Upon her appointment ITV immediately posted an article giving a profile of the most powerful person in the country. Charting her journey from vicars daughter to party activist to Home Secretary to Prime Minister, it describes her as a force to be reckoned with as she takes over at the very top.
The New Statesman begged the question of whether, after Brexit, the EU should pursue full political union. Tracing the history of the EU, an institution, the article states, that was never designed to deal with a uniquely British problem, Brendan Simms suggests that now the ‘awkward British partner’ has left, the EU should pursue its goal of full political union. He argues that Britain acted as a constraint on this vision and now Germany and France can fully implement their vision of what the European Union should be.
As one Prime Minister was sworn in another left. David Cameron’s legacy, according to most commentators, is Brexit and the fallout from it. A Prime Minister who accidentally led Britain to the brink of the unknown. Renowned columnist, Toby young, however, disagreed writing in the Telegraph that free schools will be the Prime Minister’s enduring legacy. He argues that the policy ‘epitomises’ Cameron’s social justice agenda.
On the benches
Ruth Davidson’s comedy turn
On Tuesday, Ruth Davidson hosted the lobby lunch, holding back no punches on both her own party as well as Labour. Hinting at Leadsom’s departure from the leadership race, Davidson asserted: “Before politics, I single-handedly saved the banking system. Speaking as a mother…” She also called Corbyn a ‘national joke’ and concluded the lunch with a warning that was clearly adhered to: ‘I didn’t say that, you can’t report that and if you do it will be gutter journalism of the highest order.’ Also included was a joke so rude we couldn’t even put it in the Intelex weekly briefing.
Rupa Huq skewers Michael Gove in Justice Select Committee
Despite the machinations of Government and the Labour Party taking priority this week in the news the work of the humble Select Committees continued unabated. Michael Gove, in what transpired to be his last day in office faced the mirth of Labour member of the Justice Select Committee when he appeared before the Committee on Wednesday. Starting off her questioning, Huq noted that she did not expect Gove to have had time to appear before the Select Committee due to his leadership bid. However she said that due to his campaign ‘falling like skittles’ he had found the time to facilitate the Committee in their scrutiny of the Justice Department.
David Cameron said his farewells to the House of Commons in his last Prime Minister’s Questions, in a humorous though at times poignant session. Making light of his departure, he said ‘other than one meeting this afternoon with Her Majesty the Queen, my diary for this afternoon is remarkably light’ and inverted a line delivered in his first ever PMQs as Leader of the Opposition to then Prime Minister Tony Blair, saying ‘I was the future once’.
Mocking Labour’s ineffectual coup, Cameron noted ‘We’ve had resignation, nomination, competition and coronation; they haven’t even decided what the rules are yet!’. However perhaps his best line was aimed at Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s dogged determination to stay in post, invoking a memorable Monty Python scene; ‘I’m beginning to admire his tenacity. He’s reminding me of the Black Knight in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, he has been kicked so many times but he says “keep going, it’s only a flesh wound!”’
Scottish National Party poopers?
David Cameron’s last Prime Minister’s Questions was a light hearted affair. Light hearted, that is, unless you were an SNP MP. With the stony faces of party poopers the world over, the 54 strong group of MPs said Cameron would ‘receive no applause from these benches’. Carol Monaghan MP even suggested his Premiership has been so disastrous it led to a spike in support for Scottish independence. She proceeded to clumsily deliver a scripted joke about Cameron signing up as a member of the SNP on the party’s website. One problem. She got the website domain name wrong.
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Tweet of the Week
It’s been another crazy week in politics; a new Prime Minister, a new Cabinet, resignations, sackings, leadership bids launched and failed. Spare a thought for those Secretaries of State who got the chop this week though. Not only have they lost their job, so too have their advisers, out on the pavement outside Whitehall with nowhere to go.
One such Minister was John Whittingdale. After just over a year in the role of Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, a role he has prized his whole professional political career, Whittingdale got the boot on Thursday.
Upon being asked what his plans were for the rest of the day he told ITV’s Christopher Hope that him and his team were off to get drunk. And off they went to the pub.
In Focus: “You got us into this mess…”
In normal times it would be hard to imagine a Cabinet in which Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox are the leading lights. But these are not normal times and Theresa May’s first appointments underlined the spectre of Brexit which looms over the new government. The new Prime Minister is not going to allow the leading Brexiteers to avoid accountability for their referendum campaign promises. The rest of the Cabinet decisions represent a balance of settling old scores, rewarding allies, achieving better gender balance and bringing on new talent.
The task of negotiating Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is enormous and overshadows any domestic agenda that the new PM would otherwise wish to pursue. Indeed it has forced her to reshape the very machinery of government. A new Department for Brexit is in the process of being established alongside a new Department for International Trade. More broadly, BIS and the Energy and Climate Change departments have been merged into a new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Higher education and skills have been transferred to the Department for Education.
With Davis and Fox given the critical EU and international trade roles, Boris Johnson has been left to try and forge a new purpose for the Foreign Office in a post-EU world. While he has been appointed to a senior position, in some respects Boris now cuts an isolated figure – distrusted even by Brexiteers.
More widely, the new Cabinet is being seen as powerful assertion of Theresa May’s authority, with a number of new faces in key roles. The removal of a sweep of figures closely associated with the Cameron administration, most notably Osborne, Gove and Letwin, represents a significant reboot of the government and a cultural shift away from the Notting Hill set and towards the traditional Tory right.