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The House of Commons rises for the Christmas period

With a new majority, “reinvigorated” cabinet, and his Brexit bill passed, what will be the Prime Minister’s priorities when the House returns in the new year?

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Image Credit: Jorge Láscar

After 6 weeks of hard campaigning, the results of the recent election have meant that Boris Johnson will now enter the new year with an 80 seat majority in the House of Commons. For many in politics, it has been hard to envision life after the 12th December, including the Conservatives. Nonetheless, once the dust settled after the electoral victory, political life at Number 10 was to resume again. The first order of business was being to make any altercations to Johnson’s cabinet; to assemble the his team that was to “get Brexit done”, alongside their new domestic policies.

A major reshuffle was not anticipated at this point from the Prime Minister. Johnson had already introduced his first cabinet upon winning party leadership in the Summer. It included the new appointments of Chancellor Sajid David, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, and Home Secretary Priti Patel, all of whom are remaining in their posts. Instead, the cabinet welcomed a new face in Simon Hart. There were also elements of surprise as Nicky Morgan remained in her post, despite resigning as an MP.

Hart has taken on the role of Welsh Secretary, replacing Alan Cuins who resigned at the beginning of the election. Pleased with his appointment, he expressed his delight at the “amazing opportunity he had been given”. In an attempt to address the common critique of a negative tone of proceedings in the Commons, he pledged that there would be “no petty arguments” between Cardiff and Westminster. The political left have debated how long Hart’s position would exist, floating the idea that the job may be scrapped in the future. Hart rejected such suggestions as “nonsense”. The result of the election put strengthening the union as a priority, which meant Hart’s role was vital. A role that he saw was to be "the voice of Wales at the heart of the UK government”.

While she stepped down as the MP for Loughborough, Morgan remains in the position of Culture Secretary. She will now sit as a cabinet minister in the House of Lords after having accepted a peerage. Opposition parties, however, have accused her of being rewarded for her “political sycophancy”. Yet, Morgan is firmly against such accusations, adding that she may only hold the role until the end of the January as vast changes are expected to be implemented within the Prime Minister’s top team upon leaving the EU. She further quipped on Twitter that it turns out leaving “the Cabinet is harder than leaving the EU”.

The comment may have been flippant in nature, but Morgan appears to be right. As anticipated after the Conservatives landslide victory in the December election, Johnson’s Brexit bill was passed in the House of Commons with 358 votes to 234, with a majority of 124. His campaign pledge to “get Brexit done” now appears in grasping distance for the Prime Minister as the bill puts a ban to an extension of the transition period, planning for the UK to leave the EU on the 31st January. The bill passed despite Labour’s instructions from Jeremy Corbyn to vote against it. The Labour leader claimed there remained a “better and fairer way to leave the EU”.

Interestingly, 6 Labour MPs ignored this message and defied the party’s whip by voting for the bill. Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields, was one of this small group explaining how she made her choice with a heavy heart, but believed it was time for the “combative nature of this debate” to come to an end. She did not believe in opposition for opposition’s sake, leading her to contribute to the 358 votes that backed the Prime Minister’s bill. Her language appears to match Johnson’s, who spoke about the need to leave the old labels of ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ behind. This offers hope to Eurosceptics as after 3 years of time and money used on debate, there now seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. Yet, as often is the case with politics, the reality is more complex than first meets the eye. The Government’s Brexit bill was passed with 358 votes, despite gaining 365 seats in parliament from the result of the recent election. It appears that Labour is not the only party with MPs willing to cross party lines.

The passing of the bill marked the penultimate day before parliament was to rise for the Christmas period. The Queen’s Speech indicates that, alongside the NHS, Brexit remains Johnson’s ultimate priority once the House returns on the 7th January, when three further days of debate have been scheduled. With a “reinvigorated” cabinet, a new majority, and his Brexit bill commentators have asked if British politics is to see the rise of Johnsonism in the new year? John Pienaar, the BBC’s deputy political editor, suggests that while this may be the case, giving a “political mission a name is a lot easier than pulling it off”. While questions may continue if parliament is entering a new era, Westminster certainly leaves for the Christmas break in a very different position from 2018.

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