Caretakers for how long? I’ve no clue, says minister

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James Cleverly, named as new education secretary (AP)
James Cleverly, named as new education secretary (AP)

One of Boris Johnson’s newly appointed Cabinet ministers insisted on Friday that Britain has a “functioning” government — but conceded he had no idea how long he would be in his post for.

Despite calls from some senior Conservatives for Mr Johnson to hand over to a caretaker prime minister while a new party leader is chosen, Education Secretary James Cleverly said the interim Government would deliver on its primary function to “provide a service for the British people”.

“I — and I am sure my colleagues will be exactly the same — will be working hard to deliver good professional functioning government for as long as we’re in place,” he told Sky News. “If that’s a short time or a long time, none of us know.

“You are in the job that you’re in doing… until you are replaced. That is how it always works. In politics, none of us know exactly how long we’re going to be in our roles.”

Mr Cleverly was speaking the morning after a tumultuous day in Westminster which saw Mr Johnson finally bow to pressure from his own Tory MPs to quit following a catastrophic loss of confidence.

But he refused to hand power to his deputy Dominic Raab and instead began appointing a new ministerial team after he was faced by an unprecedented wave of more than 50 government resignations — including five cabinet ministers and 22 from the more junior ranks.

Six new Cabinet ministers were appointed yesterday along with 12 junior ministerial appointments, including the return of Will Quince to the Department for Education just hours after he had resigned in protest at the Prime Minister’s leadership.

That still leaves at least 10 more ministers to be appointed as well as dozens more government aides and envoys.

Mr Cleverly insisted further appointments were being made today and added that in any reshuffle “there is always a period where people are appointed, there are always short term gaps”.

But amid fears of a zombie government, the country’s top civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, was today coming under growing pressure over his role in the turmoil in Downing Street. In an extraordinary attack, one former senior mandarin, Sir David Normington, accused Mr Case of being a “bystander at the car crash” and said he had presided over a “decline in standards” in government.

The former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office told the BBC’s Today programme Mr Case would be a “central figure in the next few weeks” and that he had to “lay down some rules” and “draw some lines” for the Prime Minister.

Asked if he was strong enough to do that, Sir David replied: “I’m a little doubtful about it. He has presided over a decline in standards. He has had a very difficult prime minister to deal with but he has sometimes seemed like a bystander at the car crash. This is the moment for him to step up.”

He added that it would have been “preferable” if Mr Johnson had stepped down. He said: “He doesn’t have a lot of authority, I am not sure we can rely on him to do the right thing but we have to make the best of it.”

Tory MPs who had hoped Mr Johnson would hand over to Mr Raab now appear resigned to him remaining in charge while a permanent successor is chosen.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 backbench committee of Tory MPs which will announce the timetable for the election on Monday, told the BBC’s Today programme: “I think in an ideal world, Dominic Raab, as Deputy Prime Minister, should have been the caretaker prime minister. But that ship I think has sailed and we must we must now live with the fact that Boris Johnson will be Prime Minister until a successor can be voted on.”

Caroline Nokes, another senior Conservative MP, added: “I have consistently said Dom Raab could have stepped up and stood in as Prime Minister in the intervening period.” She added that unlike previous leadership contests there were concerns over Mr Johnson’s integrity and “legitimate questions as to whether the should continue in the role until such time as we have a new prime minister.”

She urged party chiefs to speed up the process of electing the new leader, saying: “I want to see the transition happen as swiftly as possible.”

Labour tried to step up the pressure on Mr Johnson, however, saying it will call a no-confidence vote in Parliament in the Prime Minister if the Tory Party does not get rid of him immediately.

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Secretary’s entire focus is on leading the Civil Service and delivering on the priorities of the Government.”

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