Asked a few weeks ago to name his favourite film scene, Boris Johnson chose "the multiple retribution killings at the end of The Godfather". Supporters of Jeremy Hunt should have taken note because among the ministers who were sacked rather than resigned in Johnson's cabinet bloodbath, all but one – James Brokenshire – backed his rival in the leadership contest.
The speed and scale of the purge – 17 ministers in all – was the most dramatic element of Johnson’s cabinet formation. But the most important feature is the wholesale takeover of government by the Vote Leave campaign.
Among the top figures in the cabinet, all but chancellor of the exchequer Sajid Javid campaigned for Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Among the new advisers entering Downing Street are operatives from Vote Leave, led by its campaign director, Dominic Cummings.
Cummings is expected to work with Michael Gove, with whom he worked in the department of education, on planning for a no-deal Brexit. A brilliant but irascible figure, Cummings has been scathing about the conduct of Brexit negotiations, including the backstop.
He wrote last year that May’s promise to leave the single market and the customs union was incompatible with her commitment to avoid friction around the Irish Border and to have no border in the Irish Sea.
“The Government has also aided and abetted bullshit invented by Irish nationalists and Remain campaigners that the Belfast Agreement prevents reasonable customs checks on trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic,” he wrote.
“It does no such thing. This has fatally undermined the UK’s negotiating position and has led to the false choice of not really leaving the EU (‘the Government’s backstop’) or undermining the UK’s constitutional integrity (‘the EU’s backstop’).”
While Cummings plans for no deal, former diplomat David Frost will lead Johnson's effort to reach a deal with the EU by making a new proposal to Brussels. In his speech on the steps of Downing Street, Johnson made clear that he was preparing to blame the EU for a no-deal Brexit.
“I am convinced that we can do a deal without checks at the Irish Border, because we refuse under any circumstances to have such checks, and yet without that anti-democratic backstop and it is of course vital at the same time that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate and we are forced to come out with no deal not because we want that outcome – of course not – but because it is only common sense to prepare,” he said.