By Paul Scully, MP for Sutton and Cheam
Much has been written about the swift transfer of power from David Cameron to Theresa May but her subsequent appointments to Cabinet and ministerial posts are interesting in themselves when looking at the likely direction of her government. As someone who campaigned and voted to leave the European Union, I questioned each of the candidates about how they would adhere to the mandate given to them by the people who voted for Brexit, albeit with a narrow majority.
Some of my colleagues who I campaigned alongside insisted that the next Prime Minister had to be someone who campaigned to leave. I was not that dogmatic. The first person in Theresa May’s campaign that I was keen to speak to is Chris Grayling, who ran her leadership campaign. He was the cabinet member who pushed most for Ministers to be able to campaign freely in the referendum and so I wanted to explore what had reassured him. He explained that when looking who could step straight into the role of Prime Minister and who would be best to sit opposite Angela Merkel when negotiating the best Brexit terms for the UK he need not look further than Theresa. In contrast to the Labour Party who look as though they will continue to be in disarray over the summer, the new Prime Minister has refocused Conservative MPs on the important matters to hand; making Brexit work for all and continuing to deliver the manifesto on which I was elected in Sutton & Cheam just fourteen months ago.
Splitting the Brexit role between two cabinet ministers was an inspired move. David Davis, a real thinker in the party, will concentrate on negotiating our exit terms with the EU whilst Liam Fox, an experienced internationalist focuses on building further trade relationships and ultimately new free and preferential trade agreements that will open up the increasingly global economy. He has already had encouraging conversations with countries like India, Australia and the USA. Boris Johnson is a front man, selling the UK brand across the world as he did for London whilst Mayor.
The rest of the cabinet has a different feel from David Cameron’s last one. The old school tie is out with state education featuring heavily on each Secretary of State’s CVs. Speaking to a number of teachers over the weekend, they are quietly optimistic that Justine Greening, the new Secretary of State for Education will be good for schools, building on improving standards whilst recognising the pressure on teachers. Chris Grayling represents the constituency of Epsom and Ewell, a Surrey seat with several commuters. His first challenge is to tackle the appalling service by Southern, the rail franchise holder that transports 22% of UK rail travellers each day. His second is to take an early decision on airport expansion. Theresa May, Justine Greening and Boris all represent seats surrounding Heathrow which may make this decision tricky.
At a Junior Ministerial level, a number of MPs who first entered Parliament in 2005 and 2010 have been given their chance. During the coalition years, many were overlooked in order to accommodate Liberal Democrats. Now they get their opportunity to shine and show us what they can do. I was sad to see Shailesh Vara leave government after covering roles in both Justice and the Department of Work and Pensions. My former boss Alok Sharma has been rewarded for his safe pair of hands by being appointed as a Foreign Office Minister covering Asia and the Pacific, allowing him to build on his work on India and extend further to countries such as Bangladesh and Burma. The formidable Priti Patel gets a well-deserved seat around the cabinet table as Secretary of State for International Development.
There is every reason to be optimistic about the future. The new government is working quickly on reducing uncertainty following the referendum vote. We have been told that ‘Brexit means Brexit’, new ministers now in post start to work on the wider decisions that need to be taken beyond the matter of the European Union, looking at our health service, our transport, building new homes and keeping our nation safe and secure. David Cameron’s legacy goes way beyond the result of the referendum. The talent pool that follows him is testament to the party that he has developed and I am looking forward to help them in the years to come.