Loyal Jacob Rees-Mogg moved as Boris Johnson reshuffles team

The UK prime minister is attempting to put the damaging 'partygate' row behind him

Leader of the House of Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg leaves a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street. PA
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Jacob Rees-Mogg has been shunted sideways into a new role as Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempts to move on from the “partygate” row with a series of political appointments.

Mr Rees-Mogg, a long-term ally of Mr Johnson, will now be the cabinet minister responsible for “Brexit opportunities”, after previously being the Leader of the House of Commons.

The former investment banker is an ardent Eurosceptic and was one of the key figures attempting to push through a “hard Brexit” during withdrawal negotiations with the European Union.

In his new position, he will hope to deliver some of the benefits of leaving the EU, although it remains to be seen whether the 52-year-old will be in the job long enough to do that – in 2018 he suggested “the overwhelming opportunity for Brexit is over the next 50 years”.

Mr Rees-Mogg will keep his seat at the Cabinet table, although he is only at a Minister of State level.

The shake-up of the ministerial team follows the appointment of Stephen Barclay as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff and comes as Mr Johnson seeks to relaunch his administration.

Stuart Andrew has been appointed Minister for Housing in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He had previously been deputy chief whip.

Chris Heaton-Harris takes over as the prime minister's parliamentary enforcer, as the new chief whip.

Other new hires made by Mr Johnson this week include the appointment of a new communications director, Guto Harri, who has come under scrutiny for lobbying in support of Chinese technology firm Huawei.

The communications chief was said to have been representing lobbying firm Hawthorn Advisers during a 25-minute video call including Huawei executives on June 2, 2020.

The following month, telecoms firms were ordered to strip Huawei equipment from 5G networks by 2027 over security fears.

Downing Street confirmed a meeting took place, with the prime minister’s official spokesman saying it was “within the rules” and “obviously we met with a number of interested parties at that time while that discussion was taking place”.

In response to the leak, Downing Street said Mr Johnson had described himself as a “Sinophile” but that the government had a “clear-eyed” approach to Beijing.

“It’s in the UK’s interest to have an effective relationship with China,” the prime minister’s official spokesman said.

“That needs to be clear eyed, as the Integrated Review (of foreign and defence policy) makes clear. We need to be able to address disagreements in a frank manner and address some of the challenges that China can pose. And that’s what the prime minister does.”

Mr Johnson's conduct in parliament has come under fresh scrutiny after the Labour leader Keir Starmer was verbally abused by a right-wing group in central London on Monday.

Mr Starmer faced baseless allegations of “protecting paedophiles” and chants about sex offender Jimmy Savile from protesters before being bundled into a police car for his protection.

UK Labour leader attacked by protesters outside Parliament

UK Labour leader attacked by protesters outside Parliament

Last week, an under-pressure Mr Johnson accused Mr Starmer of having “used his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile” while director of public prosecutions.

House of Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle delivered a fresh rebuke to Mr Johnson over his claim in parliament last week that Mr Starmer failed to prosecute Savile when he was director of public prosecutions.

Sir Lindsay said he had requested a situation report from the Metropolitan Police after the Labour leader was surrounded on Monday by a mob accusing him of being a “paedophile protector".

Sir Lindsay said: “I know it has been reported that some abuse was directed at the leader of the opposition yesterday, related to claims made by the prime minister in this chamber.

“But regardless of yesterday's incident, I made it clear last week that while the prime minister's words were not disorderly they were inappropriate.

“As I said then, these sorts of comments only inflame opinions and generate disregard for the House and it is not acceptable.

“Our words have consequences and we should always be mindful of the fact.”

Updated: February 08, 2022, 3:18 PM