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Boris Johnson is due to stand down as prime minister on September 5. (Photo: Chris Young via PA Wire/PA Images)
Few things have better symbolised the miserable end of Boris Johnson’s ill-fated government than Priti Patel’s refusal to be questioned by the home affairs select committee.
The home secretary had been due to appear before the cross-party group of MPs on Wednesday, but the day before sent them an email saying: “The committee will be aware of the recent changes in government, and in particular to the ministerial team in my department.
“Regrettably, as a result of this and the wider unprecedented changes since I agreed to give evidence, I will no longer be able to meet with the committee tomorrow.”
In her reply, the committee’s chair, Labour’s Diana Johnson, replied: “We have been given to understand that, despite the prime minister’s resignation last week, we still have a functioning government in place ...”
Despite the fact that Johnson is not due to leave Number 10 until September 5, it became clear this week that, to all intents and purposes, his administration has given up the ghost.
Taking a leaf out of Patel’s book, deputy prime minister Dominic Raab has also pulled out of an appearance next week before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, where he was due to be grilled on his flagship Bill of Rights.
And yesterday, with the UK set for record-breaking temperatures at the start of next week, Labour’s Wes Streeting asked why health secretary Steve Barclay had not made a Commons statement telling people how to protect themselves in the heatwave.
Streeting told HuffPost UK: “We haven’t seen the health secretary since his appointment. He’s the Invisible Man in a national emergency.
“This is a government in name only. Ministers aren’t even in the office, let alone in power.”
Throw in the shelving of the Online Safety Bill (another major piece of government legislation) and the latest delay to the long-awaited gambling review, and it’s understandable that the government has been reduced to tabling motions of confidence in itself just to pass the time.
The Whitehall paralysis is perhaps not surprising, given the fact that the main focus of Tory attention for the next seven weeks will be on the race to succeed Johnson as PM.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss and international trade minister Penny Mordaunt are both among the candidates, while the campaign teams of the remaining six candidates are stuffed with frontbenchers no longer focused on the day job.
Evidence of the Conservatives’ dysfunctionality is everywhere as the party’s deep ideological splits are played out in public.
With Rishi Sunak enjoying a clear lead among MPs, the battle to be the other candidate in the final run-off is becoming increasingly-fractious, with supporters of Truss briefing against her main rival, Mordaunt.
Rishi Sunak is the frontrunner in the race to succeed Boris Johnson as PM. (Photo: Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images)
Truss supporter Lord Frost, the former minister who negotiated the Brexit deal with the EU before resigning from the government, said he had “grave reservations” about Mordaunt’s suitability to be PM.
“I’m sorry to say this, I felt she did not master the detail that was necessary when we were in negotiations,” he told TalkTV. “She wouldn’t always deliver tough messages to the EU when that was necessary.”
He added: “She wasn’t always visible. Sometimes I didn’t even know where she was. It became such a problem that after six months I had to ask the prime minister to move her on.”
His interventions have led to predictable reactions from anti-Truss Tories.
I don’t wish to be rude BUT who the hell is an unelected, failed Minister to tell any MP what to do? For some unknown reason David Frost perpetually thinks we give a flying xxxx what he thinks. We don’t and we won’t https://t.co/7PC7Q2fshr
— Simon Hoare MP (@Simon4NDorset) July 15, 2022
Meanwhile, Mordaunt backer David Davis hit back: “You get to the point that somebody gets ahead and looks to be the real challenger, and then the black op starts, the incoming fire starts.”
Labour, unsurprisingly, are simply enjoying the spectacle. As their opponents tear themselves apart, Keir Starmer travelled to Germany for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer walks past a section of the Berlin Wall known as the East Side Gallery in Berlin on the second day of his two day visit to the German capital (Photo: Stefan Rousseau via PA Wire/PA Images)
A source told HuffPost UK: “As this clapped-out government grinds to a halt, the Tory leadership contestants are fighting like rats in a sack over who can shake the magic money tree hardest.
“Meanwhile, Keir is being invited to meet the German Chancellor to discuss how we can make Brexit work and boost the UK economy. Bring on the election.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.