Boris Johnson’s cabinet: Feud ends as Gove is given key role in Brexit plans
The former environment secretary will move to the Cabinet Office where he will oversee no-deal Brexit preparations across Whitehall. The Department for Exiting the European Union, which has been in charge of no-deal planning, will be stripped of this responsibility to focus on EU negotiations.
The deliberate switching of roles and centralising of no-deal planning in the Cabinet Office will send a clear signal to Brussels about the new government’s priorities. Previously the Cabinet Office had been in charge of EU negotiations.
Symbolically Mr Gove’s new role means that thetwo men who led the successful referendum campaign will be reunited in finally trying to deliver the vote to leave the EU that they both campaigned for.
However,Mr Govehas previously expressed concern about the consequences of a no-deal Brexit that he privately cited as the reason why he continued to support Theresa May’s deal. Last month, during the leadership contest, he warned that a rush to a no-deal could result in a Corbyn government.
But Mr Johnson will hope the promotion draws a line under thepolitical psychodramathat has hung over their relationship.
Mr Johnson felt bitterly betrayed by Mr Gove when he effectively ended Mr Johnson’s leadership hopes in 2016 by pulling his support from his campaignand standing to succeed David Cameron himself. Their relationship was tested again last month when both of them stood to replace Theresa May. Mr Gove’s supporters accused Mr Johnson of rigging the final ballot of MPs by lending votes to Jeremy Hunt to keep Mr Gove off the ballot.
One friend said that the promotion represented a “redemption” for Mr Gove and an attempt to put the past behind them. “The reality is that despite everything that happened afterwards they worked well together and Boris is a meritocrat in a way that David Cameron wasn’t really,” they said.
A source close to Mr Gove said he had had a “warm and cordial” meeting with Mr Johnson when they met to discuss his new appointment.
In his new role Mr Gove, 51, will be reunited with his friend and former adviser Dominic Cummings.
Mr Cummings is expected to have purview over all aspects of government policy in Downing Street while Mr Gove will be responsible for enforcing decisions and arbitrating disputes across Whitehall.
One source speculated that Mr Cummings may have asked for Mr Gove to move to the Cabinet Office to maximise his leverage over the civil service.
Despite huge influence, Downing Street advisers are not allowed to give direct instructions to civil servants. Mr Gove, however, will have the power to hold individual departments to account for their no-deal planning.
He is also expected to chair a number of key cabinet committees and will be responsible for liaising with the devolved administrations. However, while his direct predecessor, David Lidington, was Mrs May’s deputy, he will not fill that role for Mr Johnson. That role has gone to the new foreign secretary, Dominic Raab.
Over the longer term both appointments suggest that Mr Johnson is keen to shake up the way government is run.
As education, justice and then environment secretary Mr Gove was seen as a radical reformer unafraid to challenge traditional orthodoxy.
In the Cabinet Office he will have the scope to fundamentally reform the way in which government and the civil service are run. He was a big supporter of reforms championed by Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister in the coalition government, that were largely jettisoned amid Whitehall resistance.
However, green groups will regret the departure of Mr Gove, who won them over in his two years as environment secretary with a series of bold commitments, most of which will be left to his successor to decide whether to actually implement them.