Boris Johnson urged by allies to shrink Cabinet by killing off Whitehall departments

Posted On: 
2nd July 2019

Boris Johnson is being urged to drastically cut the size of the Cabinet by taking the axe to a wave of Whitehall departments.

The former Foreign Secretary has previously called for Britain's aid department to be merged with his old office.
Credit: 
PA

Allies of the Conservative leadership frontrunner told The Telegraph that the number of government departments had "ballooned" in recent years.

And they urged him to go further than his previous call to merge the Department for International Development (DfID) with the Foreign Office in a bid to cut costs.

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Theresa May oversaw a major shake-up of Whitehall when she took over as Prime Minister in 2016, setting up the Brexit-focused Department for Exiting the European Union and the Department for International Trade.

She also rolled the climate change and business departments into one.

But, according to The Telegraph, Mr Johnson's backers want him to go much further - with one arguing that the number of government departments should be cut from 25 to 12.

The paper reports that plans to abolish or merge the departments for Justice, Business, Culture, Work and Pensions, International Trade, Transport and Exiting the European Union are all being talked up by members of his team.

Former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom, who is backing Mr Johnson's bid for the Tory top job, said: "I’m certainly of the view that we need to merge some departments and we need fewer people in Cabinet.

"There is a case for slimming down Whitehall but we can’t do that until we have left the EU and have a chance to review the way the Government works."

Fellow former Cabinet minister Priti Patel meanwhile said: "The Cabinet needs to be smaller. The Whitehall landscape has ballooned and we should be in favour of decentralisation, thinking about how we can drive efficiency and outcomes. The current Whitehall set-up encourages institutionalised groupthink instead."

Mr Johnson has previously argued that the Department for International  Development, which was spun out of the Foreign Office in the 1990s by the Labour government, should be folded back in an effort to save money.

"If ‘Global Britain’ is going to achieve its full and massive potential then we must bring back DfID to the FCO," the former Foreign Secretary said earlier this year.

"We can’t keep spending huge sums of British taxpayers’ money as though we were some independent Scandinavian NGO."

But Work and Pensions Seccretary Amber Rudd poured scorn on the suggestion that her department could be scrapped.

She tweeted: "Fold DWP? We’re a delivery Department giving tailored support to people trying to get into work, with brilliant work coaches at 600+ sites. 80,000 staff and £100bn in pension payments across the world. Can’t imagine supports this unworkable ‘plan’ by “allies”."

Rory Stewart, the current International Development Secretary, told MPs last week: "There’s been talk from both candidates about reorganisation.

"My assumption is that this is a reorganisation in which there would remain a department and secretary of state but with more influence perhaps exercised by the foreign secretary."

PoliticsHome reported earlier this year that Treasury insiders were already considering axing or merging government departments in an attempt to cut Whitehall running costs.