Boris Johnson looks north for fresh faces in new year reshuffle

Boris Johnson is lining up a group of younger and northern Conservative MPs to join his Cabinet next year in a reshuffle that will complete the reset of his government and keep potentially rebellious backbenchers on side.

Allies of the UK prime minister say he wants to shake up his top team following the abrupt departure this month of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, his two most senior aides, and the appointment of Dan Rosenfield as his new Number 10 chief of staff.

His focus will be on changing senior figures at the top of government as well as promoting loyal talent in the junior ministerial ranks.

“Boris isn’t thinking about bringing back lots of Cameroon people like Jeremy Hunt,” one well-placed government official said, referring to ministers who served under former Tory prime minister David Cameron. “But he does see that several senior ministers aren’t pulling their weight and he needs to bring up his own allies.”

MPs representing non-traditional Conservative seats in the North and Midlands are tipped for promotion, as well as those elected in 2015 and 2017. Rising stars who have proved their abilities in the House of Commons and in the media are in line for more senior roles, including Treasury minister Kemi Badenoch, Foreign Office minister James Cleverly and health minister Edward Argar.

Mark Spencer, chief whip, has held conversations on behalf of the prime minister over the past fortnight with backbench MPs about the reshuffle. Downing Street has also deployed eager MPs to defend the government in the media on tricky topics, such as the bullying report into home secretary Priti Patel.

Mr Johnson is also eyeing up a new parliamentary private secretary to improve his relations with the party. Allies said two MPs from the 2019 intake could be in the running for the role: Claire Coutinho, an aide to chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Laura Trott, who works with transport secretary Grant Shapps.

Number 10 is also expected to use the reshuffle to demonstrate the price of rebellion. One insider said: “The whipping operation has found a hard stick. It’ll be made very clear that voting against the government means two years in the wilderness. If the 2019 intake wants to be promoted, they can’t rebel for the sake of it.”

Others tipped for new roles include Jake Berry, who leads the new Northern Research Group of backbench MPs pushing for greater investment in the north, who is being considered for party chairman, said one Tory insider. “They need a strong northern voice to speak to the red wall and Jake is perfect,” the insider said.

Another senior figure expected to make a return is Sajid Javid, who quit government after a falling out with Mr Cummings earlier this year. Mr Johnson has held one-to-one conversations with the former chancellor in recent weeks about a return to government.

While some think Mr Javid could be appointed to the Foreign Office to replace Dominic Raab, allies of the former chancellor said he is open-minded about exact roles. “Saj is up for returning, but it would have to be a substantial portfolio,” one individual said.

There has been widespread speculation in Westminster that Mr Raab will leave the Foreign Office, potentially to replace Michael Gove as Cabinet Office minister.

A close friend of Mr Johnson said Mr Gove was “also certain” to move to a different Cabinet position. “Boris still doesn’t trust Michael and he’s concerned about the power base he has built at the Cabinet Office.” But a Whitehall official denied Mr Gove was out of favour. “He’s completely focused on the job . . . he’s got a lot to do.”

Some MPs think Mr Gove could be moved to the Department of Health to replace Matt Hancock. Anne-Marie Trevelyan is also tipped to return to the Cabinet, after she left when her Department for International Development was abolished earlier this year.

The prime minister has not decided definitively when the reshuffle will take place. “We’re nowhere near that,” one Number 10 insider said at the suggestion it could take place early in the new year. Other Tories think it is more likely to take place after May’s local elections if the party performs badly.


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