It will be reasonably low down on Theresa May’s agenda this morning, but replacing the ministers who have resigned so far is something she will have to think about soon. The Prime Minister has always tried to maintain a balance of Brexiteers and Remainers in cabinet in order to keep both wings of her party happy, but this is naturally going to be much harder given the Brexiteers are currently walking out.
Then there’s the need to find new ministers who will stay loyal. This desire to maintain a Brexit balance and find loyalists isn’t necessarily that good for the job of actually governing, though. Esther McVey has left the Work and Pensions department at a critical time for its flagship policy. The government has had to delay the roll out of Universal Credit once again amid fears that its design still isn’t working for the vulnerable it is supposed to help. McVey recently admitted that ‘some people will be worse off’ as a result of being moved onto the new benefit, which was out of kilter with the line No. 10 took. McVey hadn’t had much time in the job to get to grips with its intricacies: she was only appointed in January and is the fifth Work and Pensions Secretary in eight years.
Those who are ripe for promotion today, such as Rory Stewart, will be leaving jobs that they too barely had any time to understand, let alone make a positive difference in. Stewart made the unusual pledge to resign if he didn’t see improvements in certain prisons, but it was always more likely that he would be moved or there would be another general election before his self-imposed deadline.
Not only does today’s walkout mean there is even more turnover in key domestic departments; it also means May is scrabbling around for someone, anyone. It might not be that the someone who gets a cabinet position is sufficiently skilled or experienced enough to oversee the implementation of Universal Credit, for instance, but for the Prime Minister just getting someone into these jobs will be a success.
From today, May will find it much harder to argue that she has a domestic agenda beyond ensuring the seats around her cabinet table are filled.