Following Dominic Raab’s resignation this morning, Number 10 has swiftly moved to replace him as Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice. Oliver Dowden, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is now our third Deputy Prime Minister since September last year, and Alex Chalk is our third Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
Having been readopted for Hertsmere last night, it has been a busy 24 hours for David Cameron’s former Deputy Chief of Staff. He is Rishi Sunak’s closest political ally, famously co-authoring (with Robert Jenrick) an op-ed backing Boris Johnson in 2019, and then chairing his leadership campaign last year. Since Sunak entered office, he has been his fixer behind the scenes. Raab’s may have had the title, but now Sunak’s de facto deputy has now become his de jure deputy.
In appointing Chalk, Sunak has surprised the compilers of The Times ‘runners and riders’ section from earlier this week who assumed he would go for a woman. But Chalk is a safe pair of hands who has previously served for as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice and as Prisons Minister under Johnson. He was a barrister before becoming the MP for Cheltenham in 2015. With a majority of 981, he will hope his new Cabinet commitments do not come at the expense of much-needed campaigning time.
Meanwhile, James Cartlidge moves to fill Chalk’s previous position as Procurement Minister at the Ministry of Defence, and Gareth Davies takes his position as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. Both, like Chalk, backed Sunak in both leadership contests last year.
Sunak has also taken the opportunity provided by Raab’s departure to make a number of other appointments under the provisions of the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Act 2021 – namely, to cover for Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, when she goes on maternity leave.
Her role is to be taken by Chloe Smith: the MP for Norwich North, ex-Baby of the House, and Work and Pensions Secretary under Liz Truss. Smith – at the ripe old age of 41 – is retiring from Parliament at the next election, so her appointment is a sign of both Sunak’s interests in party management, and shows Donelan’s departure is very much temporary. Something of a disappointment for George Freeman – the once and future Minister of State for Science.
Talking of familiar faces, John Whittingdale has also been appointed as a Minister of State jointly in the Department of Culture, Media, and Sport and the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology. Chairman of the Culture, Media, and Sport select committee from 2005 to 2015, Secretary of State for the Department for a year after the 2015 election, and a minister there again under Boris Johnson, his appointment aims to cover for Julia Lopez, who is also going on leave.