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Food shortages in Ireland and Huawei leaks: The controversial figures in Johnson's Cabinet

The new prime minister chose a Cabinet that is fiercely Brexiteer, with many of them under fire for previous controversies.
Jul 25th 2019, 11:58 AM 34,457 55

Cabinet meeting Prime Minister Johnson chaired his first Cabinet meeting this morning Source: Aaron Chown/PA Images

THE NEW UK prime minister swung the axe yesterday, clearing out large swathes of Theresa May’s Cabinet as he brought some new faces in.

In all, 17 ministers lost their jobs to pave the way for Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s picks. 

However, some of those part of Johnson’s team have already made the headlines for the wrong reasons, particularly when it comes to Ireland.

Here’s a rundown of some of the men and women who make up Johnson’s government that have faced controversies in the recent past.

Home Secretary – Priti Patel

Britain Conservatives Priti Patel arriving at 10 Downing Street yesterday Source: Matt Dunham/PA Images

The Conservative MP for Witham in Essex has gotten an extremely high position in Cabinet, with home secretary responsible for internal affairs of England and Wales including policing, immigration and the security services.

She hit the headlines here late last year, when she suggested the possibility of food shortages in Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit to encourage the EU to drop the backstop.

Patel told The Times of London that warnings in a leaked government paper about these shortages should have been used as leverage against Ireland to encourage them to drop the backstop. 

“This paper appears to show the government were well aware Ireland will face significant issues in a no-deal scenario,” she said. “Why hasn’t this point been pressed home during negotiations? There is still time to go back to Brussels and get a better deal.”

The reaction to this suggestion on both sides of the Irish Sea was overwhelmingly negative.

Under Theresa May’s government, Patel had previously served as the International Development Secretary.

She resigned in November 2017, after it had emerged she had meetings with Israeli groups and officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while on holiday there without telling May or other government colleagues beforehand. 

May accepted Patel’s resignation, replying in a letter that “the UK and Israel are close allies, and it is right that we should work closely together. But that must be done formally.”

Her new role will be the first Cabinet post she’s held in almost two years. 

Education Secretary – Gavin Williamson

Boris Johnson becomes PM Source: Jonathan Brady/PA Images

As recently as late April, Gavin Williamson was the defence secretary in May’s Cabinet.

He was unceremoniously sacked on 1 May following a probe into a high-profile leak involving 5G, Huawei and the UK government.

In the midst of the ongoing Brexit crisis, this was another headache for the prime minister and she acted swiftly to sack him. 

May said in a letter to Williamson that the investigation “provides compelling evidence suggesting your responsibility for the unauthorised disclosure” of the information that Britain had conditionally allowed the tech firm Huawei to develop the UK 5G network. 

“No other credible version of events to explain this leak has been identified,” May added.

Williamson, for his part, denied he or his department was the source of the leak. 

Less than three months later, Williamson finds himself back at the Cabinet table as Education Secretary after being a member of Johnson’s campaign team.

Foreign Secretary – Dominic Raab

Brexit Source: House of Commons/PA

The brash former Brexit Secretary famously resigned because he was dissatisfied with a deal he helped to negotiate.

A staunch Brexiteer, Raab has provoked the ire of the Irish government in the past. 

In January of this year, the government rubbished claims from Raab that the Taoiseach leaked inaccurate information about him to the media.

He claimed that Varadkar leaked the information in a way designed to misinterpret him, but the adviser to Tánaiste Simon Coveney dismissed the allegation as “pure spoof”.

Raab also told a Commons Select Committee that the Irish  government took “a trenchant line on the backstop”, and that it was in “a very difficult position now” blaming it on the “particularly strong political position taken by the Taoiseach”.

Chancellor of the Exchequer – Sajid Javid

Tory leadership race Source: David Mirzoeff/PA Images

The new chancellor failed in his leadership bid, but gets one of the most senior jobs in Boris Johnson’s government as finance minister.

While not as controversial as some of his fellow Cabinet colleagues, Javid did draw public ire on a number of occasions when home secretary. 

Under his tenure and that of his predecessor in the Home Office Amber Rudd, the controversies surrounding members of the Windrush generation being wrongfully removed or detained hit the headlines. 

The so-called Windrush generation began arriving in the UK from Commonwealth countries in 1948 to help rebuild the country after the Second World War, and were given indefinite leave to remain.

Whereas Rudd would resign over the controversy, Javid eventually issued an apology to people who’d been affected, and said he was “committed to righting the wrongs of the past”. 

Separately, Javid also came in for criticism for calling a gang jailed for sexually abusing girls in the UK “Asian paedophiles”.

Critics, such as Labour’s David Lammy, said his comments helped to “sow division”. Others pointed out that Javid had previously criticised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during a controversy around his party and Jewish people.

Minister of the Cabinet Office – Michael Gove

The Times CEO Summit Source: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images

Keep your friends close, your (potential) enemies even closer. 

Michael Gove famously stabbed the new prime minister in the back (metaphorically) in 2016 after pledging and then withdrawing his support for Johnson to become the prime minister after David Cameron. 

He then served in Theresa May’s government and backed her withdrawal agreement several times while other Brexiteers voted against it. 

Controversies he’s faced in the past include fierce criticism levelled at him after he joked that going on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme was like having an encounter with Harvey Weinstein. 

“You just hope you emerge with your dignity intact,” he said. He later apologised. 

And, when he declared himself a candidate in the race to be the new prime minister this time around, he gave an interview to the Daily Mail where he admitted taking cocaine at social events 20 years ago. 

“At the time I was a young journalist. It was a mistake. I look back and I think, I wish I hadn’t done that,” he said.

His title now means he has no specific brief, which could translate to him becoming a trusted lieutenant of Prime Minister Johnson, or left on the sidelines. 

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Sean Murray

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