Boris Johnson plans ‘revolution’ in government
Prime minister to sack third of cabinet, scrap Whitehall departments and shake up civil service in bid to appeal to ex-Labour voters
Boris Johnson is planning to revolutionise the way government is run by sacking swathes of his cabinet, scrapping Whitehall departments and making sweeping changes to the civil service.
Having secured the Conservatives’ biggest parliamentary majority in more than 30 years, the newly emboldened prime minister has wasted no time reshaping the party and Whitehall in his image.
In plans revealed by The Sunday Times, up to a third of his cabinet face the sack in a February reshuffle after Brexit “so that fresh faces can be brought in to create a ‘transformative’ government focused on the needs of working-class voters who propelled him to a landslide victory last week”.
In a major shake-up of Whitehall: DExEU, the Brexit department, will be abolished after the UK formally leaves the EU at the end of January; a new department for immigration and borders will be created to improve security and operate the visa system after Brexit; the Department for International Development will be merged with the Foreign Office to help co-ordinate Britain’s aid budget with foreign policy goals; and energy and climate change will be split from the business department.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief aide, “is to spearhead plans for radical reforms to the civil service, including a review of the processes for hiring and firing officials, to ensure Whitehall delivers the Prime Minister’s agenda”, The Daily Telegraph says.
A long-standing outspoken critic of how the civil service is run, Cummings will push for new rules to ensure it is easier to recruit external experts from business and other sectors to serve alongside career mandarins.
The Sunday Times says Johnson’s “three priorities for the next five years will be to convince northern voters to stay with the Tories again”. This will include: enshrining in law the government’s commitment to boost NHS spending by £33.9bn by 2023-24, the first time a government has made a spending commitment legally binding over several years; transforming Britain’s economy outside London to attract more high-tech jobs to northern areas; and record numbers of new infrastructure projects.
The Daily Mirror also reports Johnson “is seeking to abolish the Fixed-term Parliaments Act and redraw constituency boundaries in a bid to stay in Number 10 for a decade”.
This would give the prime minister control over when he next faces British voters, while he could revive controversial plans set forward in an earlier Boundary Commission review to cut the number of MPs from 650 to 60. Both of these would work in his favour in a future election.
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Plans to reform sections of the media and judiciary could prove far more controversial, however.
The Daily Telegraph reports Johnson has ordered his aides to launch an urgent review into decriminalising the non-payment of the BBC licence fee in the wake of his election triumph.
“The move, which is bound to trigger a showdown with the corporation, comes as Downing Street has decided to impose an effective boycott of Radio 4’s flagship news programme over allegations of pro-Remain bias”, says the paper.
It comes after senior Tories threatened to “review” Channel 4’s licence when it empty-chaired the prime minister for refusing its climate debate.
Having pledged to limit judicial review - the legal mechanism by which the government can be constrained to act in accordance with law - in its manifesto, Jolyon Maugham in Prospect says “this government will now claim to be armed with a democratic mandate to curtail the ability of judges to scrutinise”.
Writing before last Thursday’s election, Polly Toynbee in The Guardian warned that “Johnson, free from those restrictions, will unpick the relationship between the government, parliament and the courts; the functioning of the royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people”.
“Be very afraid, as Johnson takes revenge on the legal system, on remainers, on human rights and on any democratic aggravations that stand in his way” she adds.