Why reshuffle-shy Boris Johnson is reluctant to sack ministers

Analysis: Dominic Raab is saved for now but enters ministerial limbo ahead of PM’s long-awaited shake-up of top team

Dominic Raab appears to have been saved this week by Boris Johnson’s exceptionally high threshold for sacking ministers. For now, the foreign secretary has joined the reshuffle waiting room, sitting in ministerial limbo alongside Gavin Williamson and Priti Patel.

The prime minister has faced pressure from within his own party as well as from the opposition to remove them all – over Williamson’s failure on exams for two years in a row, the finding that Patel bullied staff, and Raab’s ill-advised holiday at the height of an international crisis.

Yet they all survive in their jobs, waiting to learn of their fates at Johnson’s long-awaited plan to shake-up his top team.

A reshuffle was meant to happen earlier this year – potentially in January – to mark a year since choosing his new election cabinet. Another one was mooted for before the summer – a more traditional time of year for reshuffles, so that sacked ministers are given a few months off to cool down.

Now the speculation among Tory MPs is that one planned for September may not happen until later in the year or even January 2022. The FT reported this week that Johnson wanted to wait at least until after the Cop26 in November in order to find a spot for Alok Sharma, the former business secretary, who is deemed to have done a creditable job as his climate change envoy.

Those with knowledge of No 10 point to Johnson’s dislike of being dictated to by the demands of newspapers, fractious backbenchers and Labour.

But there is also another factor in the repeated decision to put off a reshuffle, which is the prime minister’s well-known dislike of confrontation and disappointing people.

Where he has lost senior ministers – Sajid Javid as chancellor and Matt Hancock as health secretary – they had found themselves in positions where they felt they had to resign, rather than being invited to interviews without coffee in Downing Street.

Raab and Patel, while not close to Johnson, are veterans of the Vote Leave team that swept into power after the downfall of Theresa May. Williamson was a close ally on Johnson’s leadership bid, running the whips’ operation of Tory MPs pledging their allegiance to him. A former chief whip, he also knows a lot of secrets.

A reshuffle creates enemies on the backbenches, and Johnson – who is said to like to surround himself with “old dogs” rather than potential rivals – does not appear keen to have the likes of Williamson making trouble on the backbenches.

Raab, who some Tories believe is not particularly fond of the job of foreign secretary, would be more likely to face a job swap to another big office of state, or perhaps justice secretary, given his legal background and interest in home affairs.

As a party management tactic, holding off on reshuffles allow the whips to keep the promise of promotion in the air for any potentially rebellious backbenchers.

But in the meantime there is a growing cast of cabinet ministers who fear they may not last much longer in their jobs, leaving a trail of failure and questions over competence in their wake.

Contributor

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

The GuardianTramp

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