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Boris Johnson’s reshuffle leaves UK government without a minister for corruption

UK prime minister Boris Johnson in London on July 8, 2021.

Jeremy Selwyn – WPA Pool/Getty Images

  • Boris Johnson carried out a hasty reshuffle after losing several key aides in early February.
  • However in carving up the roles, the ministerial lead for corruption was missed off.
  • Now there is no clarity over who has responsibility, or when they will be appointed.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s knee-jerk reshuffle has left the Government without a ministerial lead for corruption, Insider has learned.

Lord Agnew had carried the brief as part of his responsibilities as minister for efficiency and transformation at the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. 

However the Conservative peer sensationally quit Johnson’s frontbench while speaking in the House of Lords last month, saying he could not defend the “woefully inadequate” government response to fraud during the pandemic.

On February 8 — in reaction to the departure of several key aides from Number 10 — Johnson carried out a mini-reshuffle, primarily to carve up the Cabinet Office minister role of Steve Barclay after making him chief of staff. 

As part of that, the prime minister also gave Jacob Rees-Mogg a newly minted job, making him minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency.    

However no mention was made of the corruption brief. 

The Cabinet Office has not yet decided which minister should take it on, sources familiar close to the situation said, with three names in the frame: Michael Ellis, who is a junior minister in the department, Heather Wheeler, who is an assistant whip and parliamentary secretary to the department, or Rees-Mogg.

Ministerial portfolios are expected to be set out in due course.

Joe Powell, deputy chief executive of the Open Government Partnership, told Insider: “Our counterpart was Lord Agnew and we have not been informed yet which minister will have the corruption brief — and I don’t think the civil servants have either.”

Powell suggested the lack of attention paid to the brief was part of a general trend in which issues such as corruption were being taken less seriously, pointing to the lack of “proper action” on areas such as the long-promised Economic Crimes Bill, which is expected to create a public register of foreign owned property and reform Companies House.

“We used to have Francis Maude, and whatever people may think of him, he was a serious player in the Cabinet,” he said. “Clearly the last 18 months or so have been a disaster for open government and corruption in the UK… I hope this focus on Russia and dirty money is an opportunity to turn it around.” 

A government spokesperson said: “Fraud is totally unacceptable and tackling corruption remains an essential priority. We are taking firm and coordinated action across government to crack down on it.

 “This includes investing over £100m in a Taxpayer Protection Taskforce which is expected to recover £1.5bn worth of fraudulent or incorrect payments in one of the largest and quickest responses to a fraud risk ever.”

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