The trickle of ministers resigning before they are pushed by Boris Johnson continues this morning, with Anne Milton stepping down as an Education Minister. In her resignation letter to Theresa May, Milton cites ‘grave concerns about leaving the EU without a deal’.
These resignations could set the tone for the start of Johnson’s premiership. Certainly Sir Alan Duncan hoped that his departure yesterday would start a narrative about a lack of confidence in the soon-to-be-elected Tory leader. They are in many ways reminiscent of the Labour frontbenchers who stepped down at the start of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2015. One, Jamie Reed, resigned while Corbyn was accepting his win. This set the tone for the interactions between the Labour leader and his opponents: they were not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, and he was quite happy to do without them.
The latter is certainly true: Johnson’s allies have been joking that early resignations will merely save the new leader about 20 minutes per person when he’s doing his reshuffle, as it takes longer to sack someone than it does to read their letter about why they’re off. But there are Tories who are not natural Johnson supporters who are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, partly because they believe his management style would give them far more freedom as ministers than they enjoyed under Theresa May.
This split in the Remainer wing of the Tory party is good for Johnson. He also benefits from the antics of figures like Duncan, who looked faintly ridiculous yesterday when the Speaker rejected his application for a Standing Order 24 emergency debate to debate whether the Commons had confidence in the yet-to-be elected leader. Those who want to set a negative tone for Johnson’s election need to work a bit harder.