Huge margin of support gives Rishi Sunak a free hand in choosing cabinet

New prime minister likely to prioritise unity in offering ministerial jobs, although leading Trussites can expect the chop

Rishi Sunak has pledged to build a cabinet of all the talents but, given the swiftness of the leadership competition, relatively little has been briefed about his potential cabinet.

His team say no roles have been promised to any backers and Sunak was in the enviable position as the frontrunner of not needing to promise roles to anyone.

But he will have been buoyed up by the backing of MPs from the right and left of the party, which will help him build a “unity cabinet”.

The team in No 10

Unlike in the run-up to Liz Truss’s premiership, many of Sunak’s team had disappeared to jobs in the private sector after being axed from government and have scrambled to reassemble. Eleanor Wolfson, a Treasury and Department for Work and Pensions veteran who has also worked for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is tipped to be chief of staff.

Sunak’s long-serving and loyal media adviser Nerissa Chesterfield is likely to join him in No 10, along with other comms aides on the campaign team such as Oliver Dowden’s adviser Lucy Noakes. Liam Booth-Smith, the head of the joint economics unit under Boris Johnson, is also likely to be heading back to Downing Street, as well as Sunak’s digital guru Cass Horowitz.

Jeremy Hunt

The current chancellor endorsed Sunak in both leadership elections and it would make practical sense to keep him in No 11. He is loyal to Sunak and has been working on the 31 October statement, which will be the first big test of Sunak’s premiership.

Hunt’s appointment was a steadying influence on the markets and the two seem to be aligned on the need for fiscal restraint, especially potentially tough choices on spending. His number two at the Treasury, Ed Argar, is also tipped to stay as chief secretary.

Dominic Raab

Raab earned his keep for Sunak during the summer as an attack dog when he described Truss’s unfunded tax cuts as an “electoral suicide note”.

A well placed source said on Monday night that he would land the home secretary post, a role he has always coveted.

Grant Shapps

Less than a week into the job as home secretary, Shapps backed Sunak in the summer leadership contest and while it would be appealing to keep him as home secretary, it seems Sunak has a different agenda for the Home Office.

MPs were unimpressed to see Suella Braverman go so off-piste in the role but Shapps, often the designated “minister for the Today programme” when the government is in a tight spot, doesn’t seem like he will get the chance to make himself too comfortable in the department.

Penny Mordaunt

Sunak will need a woman in one of the four great offices of state and the most obvious choice would be to make Mordaunt foreign secretary. Having come third in the last leadership contest, she was tipped as a possible foreign secretary but had to settle for Commons leader.

Mordaunt is likely to push for a much more senior role in Sunak’s team, though some of his backers have been irritated by her refusal to pull out of the contest sooner.

Although she twice deviated from government policy under Truss (on cutting corporation tax and raising benefits in line with inflation), she is seen as a skilled communicator who carries a strong sway with parts of the parliamentary party and certainly many Tory members.

Suella Braverman

The former home secretary’s endorsement of Sunak late last week was an important signal to the right of the parliamentary party and will have helped encourage others from that wing to support him.

While the new PM may be reluctant to return her to the Home Office just days after she resigned for committing a security breach, Braverman may still make a return to the cabinet, perhaps as justice secretary or party chair.

Oliver Dowden

The appearance of Dowden in Sunak’s cabinet is seen as a near certainty given the former culture secretary and Conservative party chair effectively ran the new prime minister’s initial leadership campaign over the summer.

Dowden arguably also heralded the demise of Johnson by resigning in June after two disastrous Tory byelection losses on the same night. Dowden characterised his decision as taking responsibility but it was more widely viewed as withdrawing confidence in the then prime minister.

In Johnson’s last reshuffle, Dowden was tipped for education secretary but instead was demoted to party chair. It would be an obviously high-profile fit for one of Sunak’s closest allies.

Robert Jenrick

Jenrick was among the few Sunak supporters who made it into Truss’s ministerial team albeit as a junior health minister rather than the cabinet role he had enjoyed previously. As a trusted backer of Sunak, he could be a good fit for the Cabinet Office.

Jenrick could be a controversial figure if he returns to the top level of government, after it emerged that as communities and housing secretary under Johnson, he had overruled a council and the planning inspectorate to allow Richard Desmond to go ahead with a £1bn property development in east London, shortly after sitting next to the media tycoon and Tory donor at a party fundraising dinner.

Kemi Badenoch

The trade secretary was a significant coup for Sunak’s campaign when she backed him instead of Johnson, despite being on the right of the party.

Known as a culture warrior, it would satiate the right if Sunak gave her culture secretary or education secretary but it may be a safer move to keep her with the less controversial trade portfolio.

Michael Gove

Gove returned to the backbenches under Truss, saying he was happy to take a back seat after a decade on and off in cabinet. If Sunak wants a problem solver in a department, he may turn to Gove, who has done almost every job going, apart from a great office of state. Neither has he led the health department, which is facing a multitude of troubles.

James Cleverly

The foreign secretary has won plaudits for his role so far but could find that Sunak needs to make space at the top. But he is a well-liked and amenable colleague and would be an obvious choice to stay in cabinet as a show of unity, albeit probably in a lesser role.

Other possible promotions

Sunak arrived to give his victory speech flanked by new intake MPs Claire Coutinho, Laura Trott and Craig Williams, all of whom could get beefy ministerial roles. Others who were key members of his team who were underpromoted or overlooked under Truss, including Victoria Atkins, Helen Whateley and Lucy Frazer, could be handed cabinet posts or significant ministerial briefs.

Other experienced hands who have been leading the public rallying for Sunak include the former chief whip Mark Harper, the former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith, the former Treasury minister John Glen and select committee chairs Simon Hoare, Mel Stride and Robert Halfon, all of whom could be offered jobs.

Who’s out?

Jacob Rees-Mogg is probably top of the list for an exit. Ben Wallace has clashed with Sunak in the past and secured no guarantees from him on increased defence spending – so he could also be on the way out.

Truss is clearly likely to depart the cabinet and Thérèse Coffey, as her closest ally, will also probably fear for her post. Nadhim Zahawi and Kit Malthouse are close Johnson backers so their futures must also be in doubt. Ranil Jayawardena and Chloe Smith have made a very limited impression and could be collateral.

• This article was amended on 25 October 2022 because an earlier version mistakenly said Robert Jenrick was among the few Liz Truss supporters who made it into her ministerial team, when that meant to refer to Rishi Sunak supporters.


Jessica Elgot, Rowena Mason, Peter Walker and Aubrey Allegretti

The GuardianTramp

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