Johnson Seeks to Build Team to Deliver Brexit as Revolt Looms
(Bloomberg) -- Boris Johnson will formally take office as U.K. prime minister Wednesday and seek to build a government that will bring his Conservative Party together and deliver Brexit.
The new leader, elected with two thirds of members votes, will give hardline Brexiteer Priti Patel a cabinet role and promote politicians of all stripes to try to reflect modern Britain, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Johnson spent the hours after his victory Tuesday telling Conservative members of Parliament what most of them wanted to hear: the U.K. will leave the European Union on Oct. 31, and there won’t be an early general election.
It was a concerted effort to rally the troops before he takes office -- after Theresa May formally resigns to Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday afternoon. Many Tory MPs fear Johnson will be forced to hold an election to try to break the parliamentary deadlock that destroyed his predecessor, but he assured them in a private meeting that it isn’t his intention.
Johnson’s cabinet choices will show the sort of government he intends to lead, and he’ll try to bring the party together when he starts to appoint ministers, the person said. The new premier will fill key roles, including chancellor of the exchequer, foreign secretary and home secretary on Wednesday and promote ethnic minority and women lawmakers to ministerial jobs, the person said.
The Hard Part
The announcements will also be the moment when at least some of those who backed Johnson -- hoping for promotion -- will be disappointed, potentially creating enemies for the future.
Former International Development Secretary Patel, forced out of May’s cabinet in 2017 after a series of unauthorized meetings with the Israeli government, will be rewarded for her support with a return to cabinet. Employment Minister Alok Sharma will join her at the top table, the person said.
Johnson, who was foreign secretary when Patel lost her job, described her at the time as “a very good colleague and friend” with “a great future ahead of her.’’ It was unclear what roles she and Sharma will be given, though the Times reported that Patel will be made Home Secretary.
At the meeting with MPs, Johnson was cheered when he reiterated the key message from his leadership campaign: That he will deliver Brexit by the end of October, come what may. It remains hard to see how he can do that, and his supporters disagree about what constitutes a proper Brexit. But on Tuesday, few were arguing.
His speech was “vintage Boris,” Nicky Morgan, who heads Parliament’s Treasury Select Committee, told reporters outside the meeting. Johnson made the party feel better about itself, she said.
That’s not true for everyone, though. So Johnson began the process of trying to win over those who have doubts. “The love-bombing starts now,” he told MPs, according to two people who were in the room.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart have all said they don’t want to serve under Johnson, citing his pledge to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, and plan to resign to May before she stands down. Other more junior ministers have also quit.
Johnson acknowledged the divisions in his victory speech.
“I know that there will be people around the place who will question the wisdom of your decision,” Johnson said. His answer was to appeal to their instinctive Conservative values -- owning a home, looking after family -- and to move away from the divisions over Brexit to bring the party together.
The appointment of Mark Spencer as chief whip -- a key role in Johnson’s administration given his wafer-thin ruling majority in Parliament -- was welcomed by Tory lawmakers from both sides of the Brexit divide.
‘Energy and Enthusiasm’
Nicholas Soames, a pro-European and fierce critic of Johnson, called the appointment “a really excellent sane and wise choice” on Twitter, while Steve Baker, a prominent member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, described him as a “very skillful and authoritative man.”
On Tuesday, many Conservative MPs were content to have a leader who cheered them up.
“It was such a relief to have some energy and enthusiasm in the room,” said the pro-Brexit Theresa Villiers. She contrasted it with the “rather painful exchanges” between May and Tory backbenchers in recent years.
The question is whether Johnson’s charm offensive will be enough over the coming weeks and months. Keith Simpson, who rebelled against the party whip for the first time in his career last week to try to stop a no-deal Brexit, left Johnson’s speech early and unimpressed.
“I couldn’t stand any more,” he told reporters waiting outside. “The circus has come to town.”
--With assistance from Joe Mayes.
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