Today’s UK headlines are dominated by the news that Prime Minister Theresa May has asked Damian Green, her first secretary of state to resign over “inaccurate and misleading statements” he made about allegations that have come to light recently.  Following a seven-week inquiry that was originally investigating a complaint of inappropriate behavior towards writer Kate Maltby, Green misled the public and MPs when he twice denied having been told by police about pornographic material they found on his Commons computer.  His lawyers and he, had in fact, been made aware of the fact.

In 2008, when Green served as an opposition immigration spokesman, his office computer was found to have thousands of pornographic images, former detective constable, Neil Lewis and former Assistant Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bob Quick have alleged.  Lewis was analyzing Green’s computer during a police investigation into Home Office leaks and admitted to making copies of the materials he found which he had been told to delete. The Metropolitan police are now investigating Lewis and Quick for offences under the Data Protection Act 1998, including retaining and disclosing personal data.

Green has effectively served as Theresa May’s second-in-command, so the loss of her closest minister, at a time when her position in her party has been weakened, leaves her lonelier and possibly more vulnerable. 

Weak and Stable?

Theresa May’s interactions with Damian Green this week have been scrutinised for clues about how she performs under mounting pressure. May received the results of the Cabinet Secretary’s report on Damian Green’s conduct on Monday and she passed it to her independent advisor on ministerial standards, Sir Alex Allen. He agreed with the report’s findings that Green had breached the ministerial code of conduct.

On Wednesday 20 December, at the House of Commons Prime Minister’s Questions, May was seen in a chummy pose beside her old Oxford friend and closest political ally, Green. There was no hint in her demeanor that she is aware that her last order of business for the day will be firing him. In her written response to Green’s resignation letter, she began, “I am extremely sad to be writing this letter. We have been friends and colleagues throughout our whole political lives.”

She noted the “considerable distress caused (to Green) by some of the allegations which have been made in recent weeks.” May concluded, “It is with deep regret, and enduring gratitude for the contribution you have made over many years, that I asked you to resign from the Government and have accepted your resignation.” Her announcement was a dramatic conclusion to a crisis-laden year for May that included a disastrous snap election result that weakened her leadership. She has been described as being “weak and stable”, rather than the “strong, stable” leader she sought to project ahead of the general election. Perhaps, in sacking her friend since university, she is revealing her own strength to stand on her own when she must. 

Extraordinary resilience

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt played the role of supportive team player as he sought to put a positive spin on the prime minister’s latest crisis. He said May’s sacking Green, “Is what will reassure people that, in these very challenging national circumstances that we are in, that we do actually have someone who has that ability to lead the country.” 

Mr. Hunt also said that he thinks that “What is emerging is someone of the most extraordinary resilience in very in very challenging circumstances, who is capable of taking very difficult decisions about close colleagues like Damian Green—even with all these other things going on.” 

May’s challenging circumstances

Yesterday, Theresa May mocked Jeremy Corbyn’s boast that he would become prime minister by Christmas, saying “Well, he was wrong, I am.”  May losing her majority and her most senior minister concludes the end of a series of challenges that have marked the first 18 months of her administration. Green is her third minister to resign, following former Defense secretary Sir Michael Fallon and Secretary of State for International Development Priti Patel. 

The prime minister has had a tumultuous year since her Lancaster House speech in January laid out the government’s Brexit red lines. Brexit negotiations with Brussels were juggled with May repeatedly having to put out embarrassing defeat closer to home.  After losing her parliamentary majority in the June elections, the prime minister sought to relaunch her leadership with October’s calamitous speech which May endured to the bitter end, in spite of her own coughing fits. 

She has stumbled through major defeats such as the DUP veto on the Brexit deal. Then on 14 December, Conservative rebels in the House of Commons delivered May’s first commons defeat over Brexit, giving them a decisive vote on the final Brexit deal. Jeremy Corbin called the defeat “a humiliating loss of authority for the government on the eve of the European Council meeting.” May would then rush back and forth to Brussels, managing to push the negotiations with the EU to Phase Two discussions regarding trade. 

May’s opportunity

Filling Green’s position will be far easier than replacing his role. He had filled the void left in her government that had been left after her two closest advisors, Fiona Hill and Nicholas Timothy were sacked after the disastrous June election. The prime minister needs to appoint a remainer to replace him, maintaining the cabinet’s delicate political balance.  She might also do well to consider the Christmas break as an opportune time to re-shuffle her cabinet in the New Year.

Brexit Secretary David Davis isn’t resigning over his colleague, Mr. Green leaving, although he had previously appeared to threaten to quit in the event that Green would be forced out of office. Green’s resignation isn’t the only reason David Davis’ position in the government is being scrutinised, yet again.

Davis is now being strongly criticised over today’s release of the redacted government Brexit reports, which have been quietly published just hours before Parliament heads into recess. The summaries of 39 sectors that will be impacted by Brexit hold few clues into how key sectors of the economy will be impacted, which is not the “excruciating” detailed assessments of nearly 60 sectors analyses Davis described in June. The reports state: As the government has made clear, it is not the case that 58 sectorial impact assessments exist.” Davis has been accused of misleading Parliament, after saying his department had made Brexit impact assessments.

Lord Jay of Ewelme, acting chairman of the House of Lords EU Committee, called on Davis to publish the full reports, saying, “they pose no risk to the UK’s negotiating position” and that they “only promote an informed public debate on the options for Brexit.”  Will Davis release them? We can only hope the New Year brings the refreshing change of such transparency.

Will May take this opportunity to carefully consider the best cabinet appointees to assist her the challenges she faces in the coming year? Having replaced her two closest advisors, Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy with Damien Green, clearly, May should seize the opportunity for such improvements across her cabinet.