ALICE RITCHIE –
From his top cabinet ministers down to his communications staff, Britain’s new Prime Minister Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with colleagues who helped him win the 2016 Brexit vote.
His decision to get the “Vote Leave” campaign team back together emphasises how determined he is to take Britain out of the European Union on October 31, even without an agreement with Brussels.
But the reshuffle caused alarm among MPs who oppose his “no deal” stance, while some new appointments sparked speculation he is gearing up for an election if parliament tries to stop him.
“Brexiteers are accused of not taking responsibility. After this shuffle, they can’t be,” wrote Paul Goodman, editor of Tory grassroots website ConservativeHome.
He added: “These are all general election-ready, Vote Leave veterans.”
Johnson took over from Theresa May at Downing Street on Wednesday, and within minutes had sacked or forced out around a dozen ministers, while a handful more resigned before they were pushed.
His first appointment was Dominic Cummings, a highly effective but combative back-room operator who was Vote Leave’s campaign director and is now a top adviser.
Johnson kept on Michael Gove, who like the new premier is a key figurehead of the 2016 campaign, but moved him from the environment ministry to a role coordinating “no deal” planning.
Other Vote Leave stars such as Priti Patel, Andrea Leadsom, Dominic Raab and Theresa Villiers — some of whom quit May’s cabinet in protest at her Brexit plan — have returned to senior jobs.
Campaign chief executive Matthew Elliott, who previously founded the low tax lobbying group the Taxpayers Alliance, is also reported to be an adviser to new Finance Minister Sajid Javid.
Johnson has promised “strong leadership” to end “three years of indecision” over Brexit under May, and eurosceptics were delighted with his cabinet.
“Wahooooooo! We’re taking back control and defeating the Remain establishment!” tweeted Darren Grimes, another member of the 2016 campaign, citing its pro-Brexit slogan, “Take Back Control”.
Others were appalled, however.
“Johnson’s new administration is not only the most rabidly right wing in my lifetime but represents a near wholesale takeover by Vote Leave,” said Matthew Pennycook, a Brexit spokesman for the Labour party.
“There can be no compromise with it. We have 98 days to do whatever it takes to prevent a disastrous ‘no deal’ exit from the EU.”
‘READY FOR POLL’
Leading eurosceptic MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was appointed the government’s minister in the House of Commons, dismissed talk of a takeover.
“To characterise it as a Vote Leave coup is a mistake and is forgetting that the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Javid) and the international trade secretary were both remainers,” he told ITV news.
Javid, a former banker, and new trade secretary Liz Truss have since converted to the Brexit cause.
Liam Fox, Truss’s predecessor as trade minister, was also a key figure in the 2016 campaign but had been critical of the prospect of a “no deal” Brexit and was sacked.
Johnson’s critics say he has no plan for delivering Brexit, noting that the challenges that caused May to fail remain.
He has pledged to renegotiate the divorce deal May struck with Brussels, after parliament rejected it three times — but EU leaders say they will not.
Meanwhile parliament is strongly opposed to leaving without a deal, setting up a stand-off that many believe can only result in an election.
Johnson told his MPs this week that an election was not a priority, but others think otherwise.
Rupert Harrison, ex-chief of staff to former finance minister George Osborne, said Cummings “is first and foremost a campaigner — Boris getting ready for an election.” — AFP