Explainer

Boris Johnson’s new chancellor and education minister have troubling track records

Lily Wakefield July 6, 2022
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Boris Johnson's new ministers Education Secretary Michelle Donelan and Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi

Education secretary Michelle Donelan and chancellor Nadhim Zahawi. (Facebook)

Boris Johnson has scrambled to appoint a new chancellor and education minister after a string of resignations left his government on the brink of collapse.

Johnson promoted education secretary Nadhim Zahawi to chancellor of the Exchequer, and universities minister Michelle Donelan to education secretary, after the resignation of Rishi Sunak from the Treasury.

He also named Steve Barclay the new health secretary after Sajid Javid quit the post.

It comes as Johnson faces his worst crisis yet, after it emerged he knew of sexual misconduct allegations against former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher when he appointed him to the post.

Pincher, MP for Tamworth, quit the whip’s office for the second time on Thursday (30 June), having already resigned in 2017 over allegations that he made unwanted sexual advances towards former Olympic rower Alex Story. It’s emerged that claims were also made against him in 2019, and were upheld.

Johnson has been slammed for attempting to weasel out of admitting he knew about the allegations against Pincher when he appointed him as deputy chief whip before backtracking and apologising.

But it was too little too late, with both Sunak and Javid posting their resignation letters to Twitter within five minutes of each other. Their resignations were followed over 20 more.

Zahawi, Donelan and Barclay’s appointments are likely to last long, with growing indications that Tories will attempt to remove Boris Johnson from office. But that’s not to say they shouldn’t spark concern.

New chancellor Nadhim Zahawi suggested teachers should out trans kids

Nadhim Zahawi will be the most familiar figure taking on a new role, having made his mark as education secretary – and not exactly in a good way.

He was appointed as education secretary in September 2021, having already argued less than a year before against the provision of free school meals for children at the height of the pandemic.

During his time in the post, Zahawi became embroiled in the vicious so-called “debate” over trans children, and their access to basic accommodations like toilets and changing rooms in schools.

Earlier this year, he announced that he had invited the increasingly anti-trans Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to “help” him draft guidance on trans kids and single-sex spaces in schools, and even suggested that teachers should out trans children to their families or guardians.

But Zahawi’s future isn’t looking much brighter.

As chancellor, Zahawi will be in charge of the country’s finances, and discussion has been reignited on his own financial history.

In 2013, he repaid an expenses claim after it was revealed that taxpayers were funding the heating for his horses’ stables. 

Although he said he had not realised this was the case, Zahawi is definitely someone who counts the pennies – despite being a millionaire with a second job at an oil company, that same year he claimed 31p for paperclips and 53p for hole punch.

Labour MP Nadia Whittome was among those concerned by the appointments.

“The MPs accepting ministerial positions ought to be embarrassed,” Whittome told PinkNews.

“They have chosen power over integrity, propping up a prime minister who no longer has the confidence of a majority of MPs or the majority of the public, and who should have resigned a long time ago.”

She added: “I am particularly concerned that Boris Johnson has appointed an education secretary who voted against same sex marriage in Northern Ireland and abortion rights. We need to ensure that schools, colleges and universities are inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ students.”

New education secretary Michelle Donelan backed Kathleen Stock

If LGBTQ+ students, especially trans students, were marginalised under Nadhim Zahawi as education secretary, things might be about to get even worse under Boris Johnson’s new appointment Michelle Donelan.

As Whittome noted, the MP for Chippenham, a devout Christian, voted against the legalisation of same-sex marriage and abortion in Northern Ireland.

As universities minister, Donelan was a vocal advocate for the supremacy of ‘freedom of speech’.

She has said that she wants to put “an end to the nonsense of cancel culture”, and repeatedly backed former University of Sussex professor Kathleen Stock, who believes that trans women should be barred from “places where females undress or sleep”.

Stock voluntarily resigned after a peaceful campaign by queer Sussex students, who felt unsafe with her retaining her position.

After Stock’s resignation, Donelan tweeted: “It is a sad day for freedom of speech – given the toxic environment at the University of Sussex has made it untenable for Kathleen Stock to maintain her position there.”

Donelan also pressured universities to reconsider their membership to a racial equality charter, saying it was “in tension” with their duty to uphold free speech

She also defended Boris Johnson on the care homes scandal during the COVID-19 pandemic, insisting that the prime minister did not know that the virus could be transmitted by those who are asymptomatic. This was untrue.

 

More: Boris Johnson, tories

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