‘Brexit means Brexit’ has been Theresa May’s message since she started running for the Tory leadership. But Brexit could mean a whole variety of things. For example, a Norwegian-style deal with the EU would, technically, be ‘Brexit’. But now, Theresa May has shown real intent. She has demonstrated that she really is serious about this. She has appointed three leavers to the key Brexit-related jobs in government. David Davis will be Secretary of State for exiting the EU, Liam Fox gets the International Trade job and Boris Johnson the Foreign Office.
The David Davis appointment is particularly striking. He resigned, unexpectedly, from David Cameron’s shadow Cabinet. Putting him in charge of these negotiations, shows Tory MPs that May isn’t interested in any backsliding on the referendum result for everyone thinks that Davis would walk if she attempted that.
Boris Johnson being given the Foreign Office shows magnanimity on May’s part. She has given him a much bigger job than people expected. (Though, with Brexit and international trade being carved out of it the Foreign Office is weakened in Whitehall). But then again, being Foreign Secretary will keep Boris out of the tea room.
Philip Hammond’s move to the Treasury is, in a way, unsurprising. He and May have been close Cabinet allies, frequently backing each other up in Cabinet meetings, and this is the job he has always coveted. But one wonders what the famously dry Hammond made of May’s economy speech on Monday which talked about dealing with excessive executive pay and putting workers on boards.
Amber Rudd takes over from Theresa May as Home Secretary. This sends out a message that even if George Osborne wasn’t’ wanted in this government, there’ll be no purge of his tribe. While Michael Fallon remains Defence Secretary. This is a sensible move given that the British military is involved in operations in both Iraq and Syria and that Fallon still bats better than any other Cabinet Minister on truly sticky media wickets.
Tomorrow, we’ll get the rest of the domestic appointments. We can expect to see women appointed to key jobs; May is very keen to show that the gender balance in this government will extend far beyond having a female Prime Minister. But much of the Westminster interest will be in whether May keeps Gove, with whom she has clashed in the past, in post at Justice where he has already embarked on an ambitious reform programme.
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