Theresa May has cleared the decks for a New Year revamp of her government, scrapping plans to give MPs a free vote on overturning the ban on fox hunting in England.
The Prime Minister will seek to stamp her authority with a Cabinet reshuffle beginning on Monday amid reports that up to six senior ministers could be axed or moved.
As MPs prepared to head back to Westminster following the Christmas break, she reaffirmed her intention to lead the Conservatives into the next general election.
At the same time she acknowledged that the manifesto pledge to give MPs the opportunity to reverse the ban on hunting with hounds south of the Border was one of the issues which cost them votes at last June’s disastrous snap election when her Commons majority was wiped out.
“My own view hasn’t changed but as Prime Minister my job isn’t just about what I think about something, it’s actually about looking at what the view of the country is,” she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show.
“I think there was a clear message about that and that’s why I say there won’t be a vote on fox hunting during this parliament.”
In a wide ranging interview, Mrs May:
- Defended the government’s handling of the NHS winter crisis while acknowledging “nothing’s perfect” in the health service
- Confirmed plans to review decision-making by the Parole Board following the outcry over the release of black cab rapist John Worboys
- Promised £5.7 million of government funding to create a new “Northern Forest” stretching from Liverpool to Hull
Despite the setback at the last election, Mrs May insisted that she still wanted to lead her party into the next election due to take place in 2022, declaring: “I’m not a quitter. I’m in this for the long term.”
But pressed on whether she would still be there the next time the country goes to the polls, she replied: “Obviously I serve as long as people want me to serve.”
Downing Street sources indicated the reshuffle was expected to be conducted over two days, with junior and middle-ranking ministerial appointments likely to continue into tomorrow.
The reshuffle is likely to represent the Prime Minister’s biggest overhaul of her top team since she appointed her first Cabinet on entering Downing Street in 2016.
Mrs May made only limited changes among her senior ministers following the election in June, having seen her position badly weakened by the loss of her overall majority in the House of Commons.
It is thought her most senior ministers – including Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Brexit Secretary David Davis – will remain in their current posts.
However, Education Secretary Justine Greening, the Conservative Party chairman, Sir Patrick McLoughlin, Business Secretary Greg Clark and the Leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, are among those reported to be vulnerable.
Downing Street sources sought to play down the reports, describing them as “speculation” and “guesswork”.
It is thought that Mrs May will take the opportunity to bring forward some more junior ministers, with Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis and Justice Minister Dominic Raab among those tipped for promotion.
It is unclear, however, whether she will announce a direct replacement for Damian Green who was forced to quit as her effective deputy after he admitted lying over the alleged discovery of pornographic material on his House of Commons computer during a police raid in 2008.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had been widely seen as the favourite for the post, although reports have suggested that she may be reluctant to move him in the midst of an NHS winter crisis.
Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said yesterday: “If she promotes this health secretary tomorrow it’s a betrayal of those 75,000 people in the back of ambulances.”