Liz Truss rehires Boris Johnson aide as she seeks to reassert authority with strike and immigration reforms
Government plans for “supply-side reforms” could be pushed through as soon as this week as Liz Truss battles to shore up her premiership.
The Prime Minister has hired one of Boris Johnson’s closest former aides in a bid to ensure the right of the Conservative Party remains on side, it emerged on Tuesday.
Ms Truss is aiming to announce the first of a series of reforms designed to boost the economy within days in order to prove to MPs that she has not completely abandoned her growth plan.
Among the first reforms likely to be unveiled are changes to strike action rules for trade unions and a loosening of immigration restrictions to make it easier for employers to fill vacancies.
The Prime Minister had been hoping to make the announcements earlier but the recent political turbulence delayed the process.
The most contentious measures, including an overhaul of England’s planning system, are likely to be pushed back until later this autumn.
No 10 sources confirmed that David Canzini, who was Mr Johnson’s deputy chief of staff, has returned to Downing Street to “help the Prime Minister” – a move welcomed by Brexiteers in the European Research Group. ERG chairman, Mark Francois, said the group’s meeting with the leader was “positive”, adding: “She was open. She answered every question that she was asked directly.”
But MPs believe the Prime Minister is still in danger of being toppled if the backbench chief, Sir Graham Brady, tells her she has lost the confidence of the parliamentary party.
Sir Graham, chair of the 1922 Committee, oversees the process of MPs sending in letters for a no-confidence vote. Under the current rules, those letters cannot take effect until one year after a leader has taken office.
A former Cabinet minister told i: “The mood is still to get rid of her. As soon as possible. Probably with Graham Brady saying he’s got enough letters, if she doesn’t resign.”
Another senior Tory added: “It won’t last much longer. No one can agree on the mechanism – but the mechanism seems to be that everyone does what they can, for some people that’s sending a letter to Graham Brady, for others that is actually putting their head above the parapet. But in the end it will come down to Graham going to see her and saying, ‘you can’t carry on.’”
Michael Gove said Ms Truss’s removal is now inevitable and the country is “going through hell” as Conservative rebels continue to mull their next move. The veteran former Cabinet minister joked that the Prime Minister is now working for “Jeremy Hunt and the bond markets” in a private lecture first reported by The Guardian.
Asked whether he believed Ms Truss was certain to lose her job at some point, Mr Gove replied: “Absolutely right. The question for any leader is what happens when the programme or the platform on which you secured the leadership has been shredded.”
More than a dozen MPs who want to see the Prime Minister removed held a crunch meeting on Monday night where they shared a curry in the office of Mel Stride, a major supporter of Rishi Sunak.
But the group was unable to agree on a strategy for their next steps. One of the MPs told The Sun: “If that was a plot, then Truss is safe where she is. It was just a room of very concerned people with absolutely no credible solution to the problem.”
By Tuesday evening, the total number of Conservative MPs publicly calling for Ms Truss to resign stood at five after no more backbenchers chose to break cover. Many MPs say privately they do not want to take action until there is a clear successor lined up to replace her in No 10.
Two former party chairmen, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Pickles, have written a joint article for The Daily Telegraph calling for backbenchers to unite. They said: “Divided parties don’t win elections – in fact, they lose them badly. We saw it in the mid-90s, as our party bitterly fought amongst itself over Europe and went on to get trounced in the 1997 election.”
In another bid to show that she is committed to doubling down on the day job, Ms Truss spoke to Emmanuel Macron to discuss the way forward for the West’s efforts to help Ukraine win its war with Russia.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The leaders discussed their deep concern at Russia’s recent barbaric attacks on civilian areas in Ukraine. They agreed the UK and France will continue to work closely together with allies to support Ukraine and coordinate our response to Russian aggression.
“The Prime Minister and President Macron also welcomed the recent opportunity to meet in person at the leaders’ summit in Prague, and looked forward to continuing to deepen bilateral cooperation.”
Defence spending will continue to rise to 3 per cent of the UK’s GDP despite the forthcoming squeeze on other Whitehall budgets, No 10 has promised in a victory for Ben Wallace.
The Defence Secretary and his deputy both threatened to resign if Liz Truss broke her pledge to increase military spending by 2030.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman has now committed to the new target – up from the current Nato minimum of 2 per cent – even as all other spending plans remain under review.
Speaking at Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the new Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, “made clear public spending would continue to rise overall but that departments continue to be asked to look at finding ways to save taxpayers’ money, with public spending standing at around £1trn currently”, according to No 10. Mr Hunt “said this work should focus on areas which would not affect the service the public receives”.
The Chancellor is meeting every Cabinet minister this week with a view to submitting drafts of their departmental budgets to the Office for Budget Responsibility by Friday. The Department of Health will not be exempted from cuts despite promises to raise NHS spending every year.
Defence minister, James Heappey, earlier suggested he would resign if the military budget did not increase in line with Ms Truss’s previous promises.
Asked whether he was prepared to quit, Mr Heappey told LBC: “Yeah. But no one has said that 3 per cent is not going to happen by 2030… We need to be spending 3 per cent of our GDP on defence of our nation by 2030 because there is no prosperity without security.”