Michael Gove has been put in charge of directing no-deal Brexit planning from the Cabinet Office as the Department for Exiting the European Union is told to focus on EU negotiations in a major reshuffle after Boris Johnson was made prime minister yesterday.
As Cabinet Office minister and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the former environment secretary will head up central department as it takes charge of overseeing no-deal planning across government. Gove was a key figure in the Vote Leave campaign alongside Johnson.
Johnson said this morning that he had instructed Gove to make no-deal preparations his “top priority” and “mobilise the civil service to deliver this outcome, should it become necessary". The newly-instated chancellor, Sajid Javid, had confirmed that "all necessary funding will be made available" for departments' no-deal planning.
He said the government was committed to leaving the EU on 31 October "whatever the circumstances".
“The UK is better prepared for that situation than many believe, but we are not as ready yet as we should be. In the 98 days that remain to us we must turbocharge our preparations to make sure that there is as little disruption as possible to our national life," he said.
Johnson said preparing for a no-deal outcome would not be "just about seeking to mitigate the challenges, but also about grasping the opportunities.
"This is not just about technical preparations, vital though they are. It is about having a clear economic strategy for the UK in all scenarios.”
And while the Cabinet Office will coordinate Whitehall preparations, DExEU will be stripped of all responsibilities except negotating with the EU, it has been reported.
Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay will remain in place at DExEU – one of the few cabinet ministers to retain their posts in Johnson’s government.
The shift in departmental responsibilities appears to reverse a switch that happened this time last year. In July 2018, around 50 staff moved from DExEU to the Cabinet Office when then-prime minister Theresa May set up a Brexit unit in the central department headed by her senior Europe adviser Olly Robbins.
At the time of publication, neither department had confirmed how many civil servants would transfer between the two as responsibility for the negotiations moved to the Brexit department.
However, Johnson indicated today that he would pull civil servants out of Brussels to work on Brexit preparations in the UK.
"Today there are very many brilliant UK officials, trapped in meeting after meeting in Brussels and Luxembourg when they could be better deploying their talents in preparing to pioneer new free trade deals or promoting a truly global Britain, and I want to start unshackling our officials to undertake this new mission right away," he said.
Johnson also said the UK would “under no circumstances” nominate a commissioner to the EU for the European Commission taking office on 1 December.
All change in cabinet
The change was announced in a major reshuffle that saw all three of the top offices of state change hands.
Sajid Javid was appointed chancellor, former international development secretary Priti Patel becoming home secretary and former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab foreign secretary. Raab was also named first secretary of state, making him de facto deputy prime minister.
Former chancellor Philip Hammond resigned yesterday after Johnson became prime minister, having previously said he could not sit in the cabinet of a prime minister who was willing to leave the EU without a deal.
Justice secretary David Gauke and international development secretary Rory Stewart also resigned.
Also among those to lose their cabinet seats were foreign secretary – and Johnson’s former rival for the party leadership – Jeremy Hunt, defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, education secretary Damian Hinds and housing secretary James Brokenshire.
Many of those who have departed have been replaced by pro-Brexit MPs and Johnson’s political allies. Theresa Villiers, who has argued for a no-deal Brexit if problems with the backstop cannot be resolved has become environment secretary; Ben Wallace, a Johnson ally as defence secretary.
Liz Truss, who championed Johnson during his leadership campaign, has moved from being chief secretary to the Treasury to the Department for International Trade.
Nicky Morgan, a pro-remain MP, has become culture secretary, relinquishing her role as head of parliament’s Treasury Select Committee.
Amber Rudd and Matt Hancock have stayed in place as work and pensions secretary and health secretary respectively.