Priti Patel has resigned as International Development secretary over meetings she had with Israeli officials that she didn’t tell Number 10 about, breaking the ministerial code of conduct.
But what does this mean for the present Government?
The precarious balance of the Cabinet over Brexit.
Since the disaster of the June election, the power in deciding Britain’s future relationship with the EU has been taken away from the Prime Minister, after her failure to secure a majority, and gained by the ministers that make up the Cabinet. It is the Cabinet that will argue against each other and decide over the next year what the government’s position will be in the negotiations, starting again this Friday.
This is already beginning to be a chaotic mess of differing opinions. With the PM so short of authority, deciding which group of ministers she will side with is proving to be difficult.
However, the Prime Minister now has the decision to promote a junior minister or MP to fill the role left vacant after Priti Patel’s departure. When Michael Fallon resigned, Theresa May replaced him with Gavin Williamson because of his loyalty to her but also because he is a Remainer, as was the ex-defence secretary.
Priti Patel was a key figure in the Leave campaign, given her leverage among ethnic-minority voters — something that people like Nigel Farage failed to achieve. For Theresa May, her backbench Eurosceptics will not accept Priti Patel being replaced by someone of a different opinion over Brexit.
For the EU, all they wish to know is whom to negotiate with and whether the Prime Minister will still be in her job by the end of the negotiations. At the moment, this uncertainty weakens Britain’s negotiating position. But what the EU fear most, however, is May being replaced by Boris.
Loyalty and a catalyst for a new reshuffle?
Gavin Williamson was considered a safe replacement by Downing Street. He was personally close to the Prime Minister and was someone who caused little trouble for her. The reaction was all but amicable from her party; MPs’ cried of a ‘House of Cards-style plot’, where the Chief Whip had promoted himself to the higher role. This was evidence of the the tightrope the PM now walks, between finding allies and pleasing her party.
Some Tory MPs also criticised the PM for missing the chance to refresh the look of the Cabinet, by bringing in newer and younger faces from the backbenches; something quite vital for future election success.
For Theresa May the second Cabinet departure in a week could provide her with the opportunity to rectify the mistakes made when finding a replacement for Michael Fallon.
The Budget was always talked of as a make or break moment. But with her options for new Cabinet ministers running out, the PM may be unable to find a replacement at this stage — especially as fewer loyal MPs remain.
So, will the PM opt for a new chancellor at a time of great uncertainty over Brexit and the economy? I doubt it. Cabinet reshuffles are always difficult and no matter how strong a prime minister is, if the wrong people are upset the repercussions will be severe. This is especially true of May, given her flailing position as PM.
The overall chaotic look of this government
Many will not have watched the live helicopter coverage of Priti Patel arriving from Uganda, and they will not have followed all the detailed intricacies of her various meetings. Remember, more people listen to the news on Radio 2 in the morning than watch the Today programme. However, whether watching parts of the bulletins or listening to the headlines on the radio, another Cabinet departure only creates an image of chaos.
It is right that improving the country for the voters should be the government’s main focus; but, it cannot do that without getting its own ship in order first.
Optimists will hope that once May accomplishes this, policies can begin to be drawn out. I think the Budget will be seen as a marker for this. The Budget will either shorten or lengthen May’s time in office considerably. The government will hope that the Boris controversy and the investigation into Damian Green will have passed and been completed by the time of the Budget, later in November.
By making Patel resign, May has at least given her reluctant Tory MPs some evidence of her remaining power and strength over the Cabinet. Despite the shambolic handling of this affair, May could gain a bit of strength back should a successful replacement be made. But that was also said after Michael Fallon resigned …