A“Cabinet minister for no deal” is to be appointed by Theresa May as part of the reshuffle of her top team which begins on Monday, the Telegraph can reveal.
The new minister is likely to be based in the Department for Exiting the European Union alongside David Davis, the Brexit Secretary, to provide regular updates on preparations for leaving the EU without a trade deal. They would attend Cabinet and control a significant budget, but would not be a Secretary of State.
The appointment will be seen as an attempt by the Prime Minister to demonstrate to her EU counterparts and to Brexiteers that Britain is serious about leaving the EU without a deal if talks fail.
Mrs May has been putting the finishing touches to her first major reshuffle, which will promote more women and Tories from a black and minority ethnic background.
Cabinet ministers in the “big four” roles – Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary and Gavin Williamson, the Defence Secretary – will remain in their posts.
But half a dozen other Cabinet ministers are expected to be sacked or moved, allowing the newly-constituted Cabinet to meet for the first time in 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning.
Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, is strongly tipped to take the job of Damian Green, the former first secretary of state who was sacked by Mrs May before Christmas, while Justine Greening is said to be under pressure as Education Secretary.
Friends of Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the party’s chairman who has been blamed by some Tory MPs for the party’s disastrous election campaign, urged Mrs May not to force him out and replace him with a more inexperienced Tory MP.
Other more junior ministerial movements – allowing Mrs May to bring on Tory MPs whom she sees as possible successors – will be completed on Tuesday afternoon.
Rising star Tory MPs such as Seema Kennedy, Margot James, Rishi Sunak and Suella Fernandes are tipped for promotion as Mrs May seeks to throw off the ‘pale, male and stale’ tag to her top team.
One minister told The Telegraph: “If you are a woman in the 2015 intake stand by your phone – if you have been a minister of state since 2010 be prepared for bad news.”
Eurosceptic Tories believe that appointing a “No Deal minister” would actually help to win Britain a better Brexit deal as it would show the EU that Mrs May is serious about walking away.
They are already concerned about the influence of senior civil servants like Oliver Robbins, the Prime Minister’s EU adviser and Sir Jeremy Heywood, the Cabinet secretary, over Mrs May.The post is widely expected to go to Steve Baker, currently the number two in the Department for Exiting the EU. Mr Baker, who enthusiastically campaigned for Leave at the 2016 EU referendum, is respected across the Conservative party. He does not currently attend Cabinet.
Mr Baker is a former chairman of the influential European Reform Group of around 60 Tory Eurosceptic MPs. One ERG source said the new post was “the test for the Right about whether or not the Government actually does mean that Brexit means Brexit”.
Mrs May signalled that she was prepared to take a hard line with Brussels over agreeing the terms of the two-year transition period after Britain formally leaves the EU in March next year.
Mrs May told the Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that it was “important for business and for business confidence … to have that detail by the end of March in 2018”
Then, Mrs May said, she would hope to be able to present the terms of a deal to MPs in the House of Commons for a vote in October this year.
Mrs May’s timescales are apparently at odds with those of Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, who has said that a Brexit transition deal to cover the two years would not need to be formalised until October.