Downing Street is forced to defend its commitment to improving poorer parts of North after election win in ‘Red Wall’ seats as Northern Powerhouse role is watered down in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle
- Standalone Cabinet role of Northern Powerhouse Minister axed in reshuffle
- Housing Minister Simon Clarke said he had taken over role, but is not in Cabinet
- PM’s spokesman insisted Cabinet minister would have ‘responsibility – alongside other things’
Downing Street was forced to insist it was still committed to its ‘levelling-up’ agenda for the North of England today after axing a key ministerial post for the region.
The standalone Cabinet role of Northern Powerhouse Minister, created after Mr Johnson became Prime Minister last year, was axed in yesterday’s reshuffle.
Jake Berry, who held the post, quit the Government last night after rejecting a move to become a junior Foreign Office minister, citing the impact of increased travelling on his young family.
Middlesbrough MP and Housing Minister Simon Clarke announced last night he had taken on responsibilities, but his role is below a Cabinet post.
And the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman added to the confusion today, telling reporters ‘it will be a Cabinet minister who has that responsibility – alongside other things’.
Mr Johnson remained ‘fully committed’ to helping boost prosperity in deprived areas of the North, many of whom voted Tory for the first time in December, he added.
A No 10 source suggested that the set-up could be confirmed by the end of today when the reshuffle is expected to be completed.
Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry quit the Government last night after rejecting a move to become a junior Foreign Office minister because of his young family (pictured with wife Alice and their three children)
He had held the post, created after Mr Johnson became Prime Minister last year, but it was axed in yesterday’s reshuffle
Mr Berry, one of Mr Johnson’s oldest allies, last night turned down a different post because it would have taken him away from his family too much.
The MP for Rossendale and Darwen in Lancashire has three children aged under three, including a baby born just days ago.
He said ‘family will always come first’ and he could not accept a role ‘which would have required substantial amounts of foreign travel’.
The move would have been a demotion because his new role would have been outside of the Cabinet.
Announcing his decision on Twitter, he said: ‘It has been the greatest privilege of my life to fight for the North in Westminster.
‘For the last two-and-a-half years I have helped move the Northern Powerhouse from concept to Cabinet table.
‘I firmly believe that the Northern Powerhouse was the foundation stone of the blue wall that delivered a Conservative majority Government.’
He added: ‘I chose to leave Government after being offered another role that would have required substantial amounts of foreign travel.
‘I have three children under three – the youngest of whom is less than a week old. Family will always come first and I felt unable to accept the offer.
Mr Johnson held the first meeting of his new look Cabinet in Downing Street this morning
‘I will continue to support the Government and the Prime Minster from the back benches and will keep actively campaigning for my constituents in Rossendale and Darwen.’
Mr Berry was a strong campaigner for infrastructure investment in the North.
Northern Powerhouse Partnership director Henri Murison praised Mr Berry’s impact, in particular during his time around the Cabinet table.
He said: ‘As well as acting as a champion of devolution, [Jake Berry] spoke up for projects such as HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail at the Cabinet table, standing up for his fellow northerners – an ally to business and civic leaders who worked incredibly hard in his brief.’
Brexiteer Mr Clarke later tweeted that he had been tasked with delivering the Government’s #levellingup agenda’, adding: ‘The #NorthernPowerhouse is my home. Its battles are those I know so well through my role as a proud Teessider.
‘Levelling up is a central task of this Government, and I am massively grateful to my predecessor Jake Berry for all his hard work in this brief.’