Boris Johnson as prime minister – what does it mean for everything that’s not Brexit?

Now we know that Boris Johnson will be our new prime minister, we thought we should look at what it might mean for charities and what you should be looking out for in the weeks and months ahead. Our Brexit expert Ben Westerman has looked at what all this might mean for Brexit, but we thought it was also worth spending time looking at the impact of what the new government might mean for charities beyond Brexit.

There might be more money (for some)

The last ten years (at least until the Brexit vote) have been dominated by the financial crisis and cuts to government expenditure.

A significant feature of the Conservative leadership contest were the expensive promises made, particularly by Mr Johnson and Jeremy Hunt. Though, it’s also worth noting that Andrea Leadsom made a specific pitch that ‘austerity is over’. While some of these promises were aimed at hefty tax cuts, it was noticeable that both candidates found it difficult to defend what was seen as a lack of spending in a variety of areas.

As well as these promises, there is a mix of some serious upcoming problems. These include local government funding crunches that the public are starting to notice, along with a dwindling majority and increasingly rebellious MPs with constituents who are unhappy with the government’s approach. This means that the government may find itself with little choice but to spend more money.

This is not to say that the next budget and spending review will resemble a spending spree, and where government can avoid additional spending commitments, they may well choose to. But if you can make a strong case for spending in your area, particularly to Conservative MPs, then not doing so might be a missed opportunity.

Cabinet ministers v advisers

Much of the speculation around how Mr Johnson will run Whitehall has focused on his approach as London Mayor. At City Hall, he appointed a number of trusted advisers, to whom he delegated most of the policy detail. It’s expected that he will look to adopt a similar approach in Number 10, with some speculation about who will fill different roles. Tim Shipman from the Sunday Times has tweeted a likely ‘team Boris’. It remains to be seen whether this can be effective, and another thing to watch for will be tensions between cabinet ministers and senior advisers.

There still won’t be much non-Brexit time

All of this however is at least somewhat dependent on when, how, and if, Brexit happens. A large number of civil servants are expected to be returned to working on preparations for no-deal, and Brexit is likely to dominate the government’s attention as it did the last government, even if the new PM envisages what has been described by the Sun as a ‘blitzkrieg’ of domestic policy.

In the early days of the Brexit negotiations, it was expected that a lack of parliamentary time would be a major block for those seeking changes in policy, but in recent months parliament has been quiet, and the greater obstacle is lack of civil service capacity. It is unclear how the new prime minister will approach filling that time, but as in the latter days of Theresa May’s premiership, there may be an opportunity to pass small bills that don’t require much civil service time.

And there might be an election

It’s also possible that we could be heading for an election, either through design or because the government is no longer able to command a majority. As of next Thursday’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire, the government’s majority could be whittled away even further, with several Conservatives openly contemplating opposing their government in a vote of confidence, if it was required to stop no deal.

A vote of no confidence to stop no deal will come across some fairly major challenges however. Firstly, a Conservative MP voting against the government in this scenario will know that they will not be allowed to stand as a Conservative candidate at the next election, and at least some of those opposing no-deal may still feel they have a long-term political career to consider.

And secondly, by the time it is clear that we are heading for a no-deal Brexit, it might be too late for a confidence vote to stop no deal. The House of Commons library has noted that if a vote of no confidence takes place on the first day back in September the earliest an election can be held is 24 October, just a week before the Article 50 deadline. So, if Conservative MPs want to use this device they may also have to be prepared to, at least temporarily, back Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister to secure a further extension.

It may be however, that Mr Johnson will either see an opportunity to win a majority, or has no option but to try to change the parliamentary arithmetic, and that he will seek to call an election. It will be worth keeping an eye on the polls in the next few months.

Whatever happens, an election before the end of this year is plausible, and its worth starting to think (if you haven’t already) about how you would approach it. For example it’s worth thinking about what your main asks would be, whether you would publish a manifesto, and what other activities you might want to carry out.

What next?

As things start to become clearer, we’ll be looking at what the new government means for charities, starting with a free webinar next Thursday, 1 August, on how to work with a new government.

 

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Chris Walker Chris is NCVO’s public affairs manager, focusing on parliamentary work. He started his career working for several MPs in Parliament, and has also worked in public affairs and policy roles for the Federation of Small Businesses.

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