Rumours of cabinet reshuffle in Britain as summer recess ends
Downing Street wants to step up Brexit talks, while Theresa May commits to next election
British prime minister Theresa May will meet her cabinet on Tuesday for the first time since she told reporters last week that she wants to serve a full term. Photograph: Kazuhiro Nogi/Reuters
MPs returning to Westminster on Tuesday after the summer recess face the prospect of parliamentary trench warfare over Brexit, amid rumours of a cabinet reshuffle following Theresa May’s declaration that she wants to serve a full term as prime minister. Brexit secretary David Davis will offer an update on the progress of negotiations with his EU counterpart Michel Barnier, which both sides say are going badly.
Downing Street said on Monday that Britain wants to step up the pace of the talks, so that negotiators would meet continuously rather than for a week each month, as they do now.
“We are ready to intensify negotiations. Nothing has been formally agreed, but that is something that we can discuss. Typically in negotiations, as time goes on, you see the pace pick up,” Ms May’s spokeswoman said.
The government faces a fight over Brexit on two fronts – with Mr Barnier in Brussels and with MPs at Westminster over the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which receives its second reading on Thursday. The Bill will repeal the law that brought Britain into the Common Market in 1973 and convert more than four decades of EU rules into British law. Controversially, it would allow ministers to use “Henry VIII powers” to change laws without explicit parliamentary approval.
Conservative MPs have been forbidden from taking leave or making trips while the Bill is being debated, initially for two days, on Thursday and next Monday. The Liberal Democrats said on Monday that they will vote against the Bill if the government does not accept an amendment that would transform it.
“In its current form the legislation denies parliament its centuries-old right to scrutinise Bills and instead hands extreme powers to the government. Far from taking back control, the bill as it stands is an affront to democracy,” the party’s Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said.
Ministers have warned pro-EU Conservatives that supporting any opposition amendment to the Bill could put Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street. Anna Soubry, one of the party’s most outspoken Europhile MPs, said on Monday that she was not planning to vote against the Bill but would consider supporting amendments.
“What you’re basically saying is that, for some reason, when it comes to Brexit, you stop doing your fundamental job as a member of parliament, which is to scrutinise legislation and, if you need to, add your name to amendments,” she told the BBC.
“This is not revolutionary – all manner of people have been doing that quite properly for centuries, and indeed there are a number of people now in government who’ve got a rather fine history of defying their government in ways certainly the likes of me have never done. So there’s nothing weird and there’s certainly nothing treacherous about putting down amendments … It’s called democracy.”
The prime minister will meet her cabinet on Tuesday for the first time since she told reporters last week that she wants to serve a full term and lead her party into the next general election. The announcement surprised Conservative MPs, few of whom want an early leadership contest but most of whom expect Ms May to step aside in a couple of years, perhaps after the Brexit negotiations are completed.
The prime minister’s appetite for a longer tenure reflects a more confident Downing Street, where chief of staff Gavin Bardwell and communications director Robbie Gibb have brought a sharper edge to the operation. Weekend reports suggested that Ms May is so confident that she is preparing to reshuffle her cabinet by promoting some of the younger MPs who have been identified as her potential successors.