Theresa May has been forced to abandon her plans for a major cabinet reshuffle after returning to Downing Street with a lower majority, keeping senior ministers including Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond in position.
But with recriminations in the Conservative party growing on Friday, May put off making a decision about whether to keep her controversial senior aides, despite calls from some MPs to sack them after the humiliating result.
In a statement, Number 10 Downing Street announced on Friday evening that the chancellor Philip Hammond will keep his job as chancellor, despite weeks of speculation that the second most important minister in government will be moved from the Treasury.
According to reports during the campaign, Hammond’s future was in doubt after clashes over policy and political decisions with Nick Timothy, May’s influential co-chief of staff. Hammond had been conspicuously absent during the election campaign, even when economic issues were being debated, and May pointedly refused to back Hammond at an awkward press conference last month.
In the weeks leading up to the election, numerous sources in Westminster said that the chancellor was “in play”, with one telling BuzzFeed News last week that he was “done” as chancellor. Others were also likely to be moved if, as was thought likely, May won a healthy majority, the sources said.
But Hammond has survived after the bitterly disappointing election – in which May threw away a 17-seat majority – effectively removed the prime minister’s leverage to make big changes to the cabinet.
Amber Rudd remains as home secretary, having clung on to her seat in Hastings & Rye by just 346 votes after a recount. Rudd appeared more frequently in the campaign than any other member of candidate, including standing in for May in one of the TV leaders debates, and was tipped as a potential chancellor.
Boris Johnson stays as foreign secretary. And David Davis has kept his position as the chief Brexit minister, leading the negotiations with the European Union that are set to begin in 10 days.
Michael Fallon has been reappointed defence secretary.
No other appointments will be made on Friday, Downing Street said.
To many in Westminster, however, the composition of May’s senior staff is even more important than that of her cabinet.
Downing Street’s influential chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, are heavily relied on by the prime minister and were integral to her rise to the top of British politics. As BuzzFeed News reported this week, the pair, who began working with May in the Home Office, provide ideas and drive to their patron and have been involved in just about everything she has done since becoming Conservative leader.
They acted as her eyes and ears in Whitehall, serving as gatekeepers and enforcers, to the consternation of officials who complain that their approach is controlling and secretive and has led to “bottlenecks” in government. They resigned their positions as Downing Street to play major roles in the Conservative campaign, though they twice were allowed to return temporarily to the government staff after the London and Manchester terror attacks, so they could join May in secret intelligence and crisis response meetings.
Many in the party have blamed Timothy and Hill for the party’s predicament — particularly the unravelling of the policy manifesto, which Timothy oversaw. On Friday night, as the results came in, one senior MP told BuzzFeed News that their sacking would be the “minimum” that angry senior figures would demand if May was to have any hope of keeping her job.
But May appears to be sticking by her loyal aides — or at least, putting off a decision on their future.
Asked by journalists in Downing Street late on Friday afternoon whether she will make staff changes, May said: “What I’m doing today is focusing on forming a government… I’ll shortly be forming my cabinet, and other staff issues are for other days.”
Late on Friday, Hill and Timothy were said to be catching up on sleep.
In a statement to TV cameras in Downing Street on Friday afternoon, May said she was sorry that some Conservative MPs, including ministers, had lost their seats because of her ill-judged decision to go early to the polls.
It was the second statement May had made outside Downing Street on Friday. Earlier, after returning from Buckingham Palace, where she sought the Queen’s permission to form a minority government, she made a defiant statement without showing any sign of contrition or embarrassment for the unexpectedly bad result.
After criticism that the statement had struck the wrong tone, May spoke again later. But while she expressed her condolences to those who had lost their seats, the prime minister still seemed unwilling to acknowledge how badly her party had done.
That may not be sustainable, however, as anger within the party grows.
Rob Wilson, one of several ministers who lost his seat, told Sky News the Conservatives had run a “terrible” campaign. It was, Wilson said, “certainly the worst I’ve been through by a long, long way”.
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