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How Does Government Work Without Any Ministers?

How Does Government Work Without Any Ministers?
3 min read

Boris Johnson is set to stay on as Prime Minister for the next few months until a new Conservative leader is elected, but for now there are still dozens of ministerial vacancies left open.

Already questions are being asked about how departments can function without a full team in place, with important bill committees today being cancelled, holding up the government’s legislative agenda.

It is understood the PM will “shortly make new appointments to his ministerial team”, according to a Number 10 official, as “governments cannot function without ministers”, Laura Hutchinson, Head of UK Political Intelligence for Dods, told PoliticsHome.

“Prime Ministers cannot govern solo,” she said.

“The constitutional norms of the country will be tested if Boris Johnson continues for months with key roles remaining vacant.

“Without ministers in place, the Prime Minister will struggle to embed a legislative legacy and Parliament will have a scrutiny and decision-making deficit.”

Almost 60 MPs have resigned various roles within government, from Cabinet-level ministers to unpaid aides and trade envoys.

Some departments, such as education, have been left threadbare, after newly-appointed secretary of state Michelle Donelan stood down after just 36 hours in the role.

Her resignation followed that of Robin Walker, Will Quince and Alex Burghart, meaning Baroness Barran, an unpaid parliamentary under-secretary in the Lords, is the only minister standing at the DfE.

The "business of government continues", Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told MPs this morning in response to an urgent question in the Commons.

But Hutchinson said: “Already this morning at least three bill committees – focusing on key issues such as national security and levelling up – have been cancelled because there were no government ministers to lead them.

"This deprives MPs of key opportunities to scrutinise and debate government proposals and could lead to complete legislative paralysis if it continues.”

Dr Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society, said: “Without political leadership, much of government cannot function.”

She told PoliticsHome that the civil service can “to a degree keep the wheels turning”, but political decisions cannot be taken without ministers.

Dr Fox also warned that unless the new appointments made by Johnson are to put back in place many of those who have recently resigned, then it will still cause massive problems for the government.

“If those who have left walk back into their old jobs things can continue to a degree as they will know the department, know the legisaltion,” she said.

“But new ministers will have to get their heads around complicated legislation, those bills at the committee stage will need political bargaining on amendments.

“The relevant minister will need to know what their scope is for changes, if they have just walked into the department that may not be clear.”

Although there is only two weeks left until the Commons breaks up for summer recess, if those days are lost then that becomes “problematic” for whatever government is in place when it returns in the autumn to try and get their agenda passed in this Parliamentary session.

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