Since the election, Brexit has fallen down the news agenda. But getting this country ready for the end of the transition period is still—by far—the biggest challenge facing the Government and what drives many of its actions.
As I say in the magazine this week, you can only understand the reshuffle through this prism. First, it was about creating an all-powerful centre. The three greatest parts of government — No. 10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office — have now been joined together. Just as significant as the combined No. 10/11 economic unit is the fact that there is a Minister of State—Theodore Agnew—shared between the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. This links those two motors of government together.
The hope is that this new structure will prevent anyone from attempting to delay or obstruct preparations for 31 December, and the end of the transition period.
The second way in which the reshuffle was shaped by Brexit is that it was designed to ensure that the key government departments are all aligned on the subject. For the first time, every great office of state is now held by someone who campaigned for Leave in 2016.
Before his resignation, Javid had accepted that there was going to be friction at the borders. He had told businesses to get ready for it. Behind the scenes, though, there were big differences between the Javid and Johnson teams. Those close to Javid believed that more than a simple FTA would be needed to protect jobs in the manufacturing seats that the Tories won at the last election. This meant that they were more inclined to make compromises to protect supply chains. By contrast, No. 10’s view is that decisions made in the UK will be more important to the economy of these places than border frictions.
The final way in which this reshuffle was about Brexit was the handling of the Northern Ireland protocol. Boris Johnson and the EU have very different views on what the protocol means in terms of checks on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. With Suella Braverman, not Geoffrey Cox, as Attorney General and Brandon Lewis, not Julian Smith, as Northern Ireland Secretary, No. 10 is in position to take a more abrasive approach to its implementation.
In 2019, the Tories rode to victory on the slogan ‘Get Brexit done’. But their fortunes at the next election will be determined by the impact of leaving the EU. The government has just 45 weeks to get the borders ready for the biggest changes seen in the post-war era. If this new central method of governing can deliver that, then it will have justified its creation. If it fails, then it will be swept away as the old ways reassert themselves.
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