On Wednesday, David Cameron will take part in his last session of Prime Minister’s Questions before handing over the Prime Ministerial baton to Theresa May. Upon taking office May will almost certainly make significant changes to the existing Cabinet, with key allies such as Damian Green, Chris Grayling, and James Brokenshire potentially being promoted into big cabinet jobs.
One person who will be less sure of their position is George Osborne. Given Theresa May’s recent criticism of economic policy under the leadership of David Cameron and George Osborne, it seems likely that Osborne’s six year tenure as Chancellor of the Exchequer has come to an end. On Sunday May said:
For a Government that has overseen a lot of public service reforms in the last six years, it is striking that, by comparison, there has not been nearly as much deep economic reform. That needs to change.
This suggests that Theresa May intends to take a rather different strategy in terms of her economic policy, meaning that Osborne’s position as Chancellor is now untenable. You may think that this means the end of Osborne’s government career, and that he will be discarded from the cabinet to serve on the backbenches for the remainder of the Parliament. However, there is still a role that he could fill in Theresa May’s top team.
The overwhelming favourite to become the new Chancellor of the Exchequer is current Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond. Hammond has vast cabinet experience as Transport Secretary, Defence Secretary, and Foreign Secretary, and has also served as shadow Chief Secretary of the Treasury, making him ideally placed to take over as Chancellor. In addition, Hammond was a strong supporter of May during her ultimately short campaign for the Conservative party leadership. This leaves a vacancy at the Foreign Office which can be filled by Osborne.
Although there would likely be an outcry amongst the Conservative MPs who campaigned to leave the European Union that two supporters of the remain campaign are given the top jobs in the new government, the experience of Hammond and Osborne will be vital for the new government. The UK’s shortage of trade negotiators has been well publicised in recent weeks, with this shortage caused by the fact that it has been many years since the UK has been in a position of having to negotiate its own trade deals. Previously this was left to the relevant department of the European Union. With no potential cabinet members with experience of making trade deals, the international experience of Hammond and Osborne will be vital to the new government. Both have extensive experience of travelling abroad on government business, and both have cultivated strong relationships with their international counterparts. When it comes to negotiating international trade deals in the near future these relationships could be crucial. Although Theresa May has pledged to appoint a Secretary of State for Brexit (most likely Chris Grayling), Hammond and Osborne could be significant assets when it comes to negotiating with countries outside of Europe. Most importantly: Canada, China, India, and the United States.
Indeed, George Osborne is currently in the United States promoting closer US-UK relations, whilst he has also been promoting increased trade with the likes of China and India.
Given that Osborne has already begun to promote Britain’s cause around the world, he would seem an obvious choice to become the new Foreign Secretary. This is a move that David Cameron himself was strongly considering had he remained as Prime Minister following a win in the EU Referendum.
In addition, Osborne reserved strong praise for Theresa May after she became the presumptive Prime Minister, indicating that he was willing to put behind him their previous disagreements upon cuts to public spending, as well as his keenness to continue in the cabinet.
Therefore, despite the likely anger this will provoke amongst the Brexiteers (given that Osborne is hated for his prominent role in the remain campaign), Theresa May should make Osborne the new Foreign Secretary as his relationships with other world leaders will prove crucial in Britain being able to make strong trade deals in the years to come.
As for Philip Hammond, there are few individuals who are as qualified for the second highest office in the government. Hammond has frequently been described as boring. In January, The Times described him as ‘Mr Boring’, whilst in February The Guardian described him as ‘Dull Phil’. But, in this time of great upheaval, perhaps boring (and more importantly: competent) is exactly what is needed as Chancellor.
Overall, Hammond and Osborne should remain in the government when Theresa May announces her cabinet in the next few days. Although both backed the losing remain campaign (meaning that their appointment may prove divisive amongst those who backed Leave), they have significant experience in cultivating international relations and some continuity of personnel is exactly what is needed in this time of great uncertainty.