Out with the new, in with the old: Johnson's Cabinet defies disgrace

Boris Johnson announced his new Cabinet in a dramatic afternoon in Westminster yesterday
Boris Johnson announced his new Cabinet in a dramatic afternoon in Westminster yesterday

By Chris Allnutt

What qualities has Boris Johnson prioritised in his new Cabinet appointments?

A commitment to the prosperity of the country, perhaps? A profound understanding of your particular portfolio? A determination to reconcile a divided parliament? No such luck: going by the names announced on Wednesday, the only prerequisite is a complete disregard for your own shortcomings.

Johnson hasn't just echoed May's ability to fill a cabinet with hopeless incompetence, he's rewarded the kind of disgrace that in any other circumstances would be career ending. Almost every selection defies belief - not simply because they're incapable of doing the job, but because they've already been dismissed from government for exactly that reason.


Welcome back to the stage Priti Patel, whose brief absence from government was prompted by revelations she'd conducted unauthorised meetings with Israeli officials while on holiday in 2017. This astonishingly misjudged breach of the ministerial code is apparently just the kind of experience needed for a promotion to home secretary.

There's also the return of Gavin Williamson, last seen refusing to resign as defence secretary after he was found to have leaked classified information from a National Security Council meeting. To be dismissed from a government as divided and disloyal as May's speaks volumes. But don't worry, as our new education secretary he's only in charge of setting the standards for future generations across the country.

Speaking of standards, Johnson clearly has no qualms with Amber Rudd's continued tenure of work and pensions secretary, despite her resignation as home secretary early last year for misleading a parliamentary committee about her knowledge of targets for the removal of immigrants. Considering Rudd was previously accused of contempt of court for wrongly deporting an asylum seeker, it's a wonder she's not herself been found unfit for work.

Another resignation veteran is ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, who stepped down in 2018 after the tragic realisation that he couldn't support the deal he himself had negotiated. Sure enough, the man who "hadn't quite understood" the GCSE geography underlying our trade policy will be representing Britain on the international stage as foreign secretary.

Nicky Morgan at the time tweeted her distress at Raab's admission, but with times as desperate as they are, she'll now be joining him on the front bench as secretary for digital, culture, media and sport.

And let's not forget Grant Shapps, who has at long last relieved Chris Grayling of the job he handled for three years with all the grace of a hurricane but none of the potency. The new transport secretary is doubly qualified for Johnson's team, having been sacked from Cabinet by David Cameron for editing rivals' Wikipedia pages in May 2015, before resigning as a minister later that year amid accusations he had ignored bullying complaints in the party.

The new Cabinet is a platter of politicians past their sell by date, yet Boris Johnson’s response to this staggering array of unplanned disaster and departure is to ignore the trail of destruction left in their wake and employ the MPs at the first opportunity.

After all, Johnson brushed aside his own unceremonious dismissal from a graduate placement at The Times by securing a job at the Daily Telegraph through a university connection. The lesson learnt was evidently not that he needed to avoid deception and disgrace, but that they could be shrugged off more or less without consequence.

Johnson’s own resignation as foreign secretary roundly ignored two years of utter incompetence in one of the great offices of state. It's hardly surprising that the grubby records of his new Cabinet colleagues were easy to ignore, given that his own recent history includes the imprisonment of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a remark about dead bodies in Libya, a discussion about alcohol in a Sikh temple and the reading of a pro-colonial poem in Myanmar.

Johnson is in for a shock, however. When this rogues’ gallery of ministers inevitably clashes with his unworkable vision for Brexit and the impossibility of parliamentary arithmetic, his government will swiftly tear itself apart.

As his new hires step aside one by one, our new prime minister will quickly discover the downsides to promoting politicians with a track record of unreliability. The only way this Cabinet can conclude is with Johnson's own resignation. With any luck, it will be his last.

Chris Allnutt is a campaigner for Our Future, Our Choice. You can follow him on Twitter here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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