Boris Johnson has held a secret meeting at his country retreat to mastermind his first major Cabinet reshuffle since the Election – with female MPs from his party’s new Northern heartlands at the head of the queue for promotion.
On Friday, while the media was distracted by the ongoing Royal crisis, the Prime Minister slipped away to Chequers, his grace-and-favour Buckinghamshire mansion, to thrash out the new shape of his Government with some key Downing Street advisers.
The aides, who included Mr Johnson’s powerful guru Dominic Cummings and Munira Mirza, the director of the No 10 policy unit, discussed the likely winners and losers from the reshuffle and mapped out the main policy priorities of the PM’s new majority government.
Boris Johnson has held a secret meeting at his country retreat to mastermind his first major Cabinet reshuffle since the Election – with female MPs from his party’s new Northern heartlands at the head of the queue for promotion. One likely candidate is Sarah Atherton (pictured with Home Secretary Priti Patel on the campaign trail), now the MP for Wrexham
Treasury Chief Secretary Rishi Sunak is among those tipped for advancement in the reshuffle – expected to be announced after Brexit Day at the end of this month – but question marks hang over the future of Trade Secretary Liz Truss and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.
Meanwhile, No 10 aides have begun to look beyond January’s reshuffle to the next generation of Conservative leaders.
A special taskforce has been set up by Mr Cummings’ close aide Cleo Watson to ‘fast-track’ new Northern female Tory MPs from the 2019 intake into key roles.
Those mentioned for special attention include Dehenna Davison, the 26-year-old MP for Bishop Auckland, who became the first Conservative to represent the constituency since its creation in 1885; and Sarah Atherton, who is the first Conservative to represent Wrexham since its creation in 1918, the first female elected to represent the constituency, and the first female Conservative elected to Westminster representing a Welsh constituency.
Ms Atherton also has an impressive back story. After leaving school at 16, she served in the Intelligence Corps and ran a micro-brewery before entering politics.
Those mentioned for special attention include Dehenna Davison, the 26-year-old MP for Bishop Auckland, who became the first Conservative to represent the constituency since its creation in 1885
Women’s Minister Victoria Atkins, the MP for Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire, is also tipped for promotion in the imminent reshuffle.
The PM’s inner circle, including director of communications Lee Cain and lead Brexit negotiator David Frost, spent eight hours discussing what one source called ‘a mixture of big picture strategic and political thinking and the nuts and bolts of teams and personnel’.
Ms Mirza will this week send a letter to each Cabinet Minister containing instructions about the policy areas they should prioritise over the coming year.
At Chequers, the group discussed the Government’s strategy for the Brexit trade talks and key domestic policies, centred on funding injections for NHS, new law-and-order reforms – including how to recruit the 20,000 extra police promised during the Election campaign – and the roll-out of a new Australian-style points-based immigration system.
After a slow start to the year, with Mr Johnson accused of being a ‘submarine’ Prime Minister after refusing to break his Caribbean holiday to deal with the Iran crisis, No 10 sources say they planning to ‘crank up the pace of delivery’ on the policies set out in the party’s manifesto.
Women’s Minister Victoria Atkins, the MP for Louth and Horncastle in Lincolnshire, is also tipped for promotion in the imminent reshuffle
But senior government sources say that Mr Johnson intends to be more of a ‘hands-off’ premier who will allow Ministers to lead the responses to future crises. Even after returning from his break in Mustique, Mr Johnson sent Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to the Commons to represent the Government over Donald Trump’s decision to kill a leading Iranian general.
A source said: ‘It won’t just be the case with international crises which coincide with his holidays – if there are floods, expect to see the Environment Secretary. Boris wants departments to develop their expertise and enjoy autonomy.’
A No 10 insider added: ‘The Prime Minister will be focused on his core issues – Brexit, law and order and the NHS. Last week was deliberate and you will see him more and more as the chairman of the board.’
The source pointed to ‘a return to Cabinet government in the more traditional sense, with Ministers more accountable for the decisions they are taking. It makes for a good government.’
Despite the Iran crisis being fronted by Mr Wallace and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Mr Johnson gave ‘clear and very forthright instructions about the direction of travel’, according to one Cabinet Minister.
Treasury Chief Secretary Rishi Sunak is among those tipped for advancement in the reshuffle – expected to be announced after Brexit Day at the end of this month
The Mail on Sunday has learned that Mr Johnson opened a meeting of his top-secret National Security Council on Tuesday afternoon by setting out his foreign policy views on the United States.
A source said: ‘He was very clear – we want to be good allies with the US but we are not going to be dragged along by them on everything or sucked into conflicts.’ Another Cabinet source described Mr Johnson’s outlook as ‘more Wilson than Blair’ – a reference to Labour PM Harold Wilson, who kept Britain out of the war in Vietnam, rather than Tony Blair, who led us into conflict in Iraq.
Under the new female taskforce, female staff in Downing Street will meet regularly with the women MPs to advise them on how to climb the ministerial ranks.
A source said: ‘Many of these brilliant MPs did not expect to win and we have a duty of care to make sure they succeed in Westminster. We are going to be in government for at least half of the 2020s, and have a unique opportunity to change the party and Britain for good.’
The poster girl for Mr Johnson’s assault on Labour’s Northern heartlands, Ms Davison told The Mail on Sunday during the Election campaign that she was just 13 when she learned her father Dominic had been killed by a single blow to the head in a pub. Ms Davison, who was on her third bid to enter the Commons, won Bishop Auckland with a majority of nearly 8,000 votes.
A former contestant on the Channel 4 show Bride And Prejudice with her fiance – 35 years her senior – she received support on the campaign trail from Mr Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds, and admitted that the ‘poster girl thing’ was probably due to her tragic family story and her ‘slightly unusual demographics’.
Last night a No10 source said: ‘The PM is committed to getting more women MPs in total, and promoting the Tory women who are already on the green benches.
‘His first Downing Street reception of the year was for Tory women MPs and female advisers.
‘This sits alongside his work on girls’ education, which will continue as a major personal priority.’
Mr Johnson’s No 10 team have also been canvassing opinions on how to mark Brexit, which will take place at 11pm on January 31.
One option that was considered – extending the licensing hours into February 1 – has now been ruled out.
A source said: ‘We thought that it would allow Brexiteers to celebrate and Remainers to drown their sorrows, but we have now decided against it.’
Could Michael Gove become CEO of Government? Boris Johnson’s plan to become a ‘chairman of the board’ Prime Minister clears the way for the former leadership contender
Boris Johnson’s plan to become a ‘chairman of the board’ Prime Minister – leaving to others the hard graft of running his administration – clears the way for Michael Gove to become the Government’s effective chief executive.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is being viewed with suspicion by colleagues, who believe that he is ‘on manoeuvres’ to secure an expanded Whitehall fiefdom through the forthcoming reshuffle.
The ambitious former leadership contender – who torpedoed Mr Johnson’s 2016 bid for the Tory crown – has ‘used his extensive involvement in the planning for a No-Deal Brexit to extend his tentacles throughout Whitehall’, according to one source.
Before Mr Johnson won his Brexit deal, Mr Gove chaired the daily XO committee in Whitehall, which developed contingency plans for a No-Deal Brexit. It gave him the power to give orders to any department which needed to be ready for the worst-case scenarios
‘He wants to play a key part in all the trade talks and hopes to lead the UK’s preparations for the UN climate change summit in Glasgow later this year.
‘He even wants to be pivotal to Boris’s levelling up agenda’.
After winning his 80-seat majority in December, Mr Johnson said he wanted to ‘level up’ by raising economic performance across all parts of the country.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is being viewed with suspicion by colleagues, who believe that he is ‘on manoeuvres’ to secure an expanded Whitehall fiefdom through the forthcoming reshuffle
A Cabinet Minister told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Michael seems to want to use his No Deal planning experience to run the country for ever. He’s a bit of a Cabinet cowboy, riding over everyone else’s patch.’
The Minister added that Mr Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost had ‘bristled’ at the idea that Mr Gove would have ‘oversight’ of his work.
November’s Glasgow climate change summit, known as COP26, is designed to produce an international response to the climate emergency.
Before Mr Johnson won his Brexit deal, Mr Gove chaired the daily XO committee in Whitehall, which developed contingency plans for a No-Deal Brexit.
It gave him the power to give orders to any department which needed to be ready for the worst-case scenarios.
A source said: ‘Boris’s desire to be a hands-off PM, as he showed by staying on the beach while Iraq was in flames, is the perfect opportunity for a workaholic control freak like Michael. It means he can get his hands on everything from the trade talks – both with the EU and the White House – to the UN’s climate change agenda.
‘Michael and Boris have always had this strange psychodrama, dating back to the time he knifed Boris, but now he is on the brink of effectively being CEO for his old foe’.
Mr Gove’s expected elevation means he will be vying with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab for the bragging rights of being Mr Johnson’s No 2.
The Minister added that Mr Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost had ‘bristled’ at the idea that Mr Gove would have ‘oversight’ of his work
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