Conservative MP Will Quince has agreed to return to his old job as children’s minister only one day after resigning in protest at having to defend Boris Johnson over the Chris Pincher scandal.
The MP for Colchester quit the government on Wednesday – angry at being given assurances that the PM did not know specific sexual misconduct claims which were then “found to be inaccurate”.
But on Thursday Mr Quince was again named children’s minister at the Department for Education, as No 10 moved to fill vacant ministerial positions in a bid to show government could still function with a caretaker PM.
Having finally announced his resignation at lunchtime, Mr Johnson bowed to cabinet pressure and promised no major policy shifts in his dying days in office, amid Tory unease at his interim period in charge over the summer.
In a further bid to show stability, the PM has appointed Johnny Mercer MP as minister for veterans’, while Edward Timpson becomes the new solicitor general following Alex Chalk’s resignation.
Stephen McPartland was named minister for security at the Home Office, Graham Stuart becomes a Foreign Office minister and Marcus Jones is a minister at the Department for Levelling Up.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Johnson named Greg Clark as levelling up secretary, Robert Buckland as Welsh secretary, and James Cleverly as education secretary as he filled major vacant cabinet posts.
Shailesh Vara became the new Northern Ireland secretary after Brandon Lewis quit, while Kit Malthouse will be the new Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster after Steve Barclay was moved to cover departing health secretary Sajid Javid.
Amid the merry-go-round, former Tory MP John Major led demands for Mr Johnson to be forced out immediately to avoid further damage to the country.
Sir John said he was worried that Mr Johnson would still have the power to make vital domestic and foreign policy decisions, and suggested deputy prime minister Dominic Raab could be made an acting PM.
A No 10 readout of Thursday’s cabinet meeting stated he had “made clear the government would not seek to implement new policies or make major changes of direction”.
Senior Tory MP Nus Ghani, deputy chair of the 1922 Committee, said Mr Raab should take over from Mr Johnson on an interim basis. George Freeman, who quit as science minister, and rebel MP Aaron Bell also both called for a caretaker PM.
However, one senior Tory figure ridiculed Sir John’s “not very wise” idea, and said people should accept a leadership contest should be complete by early September.
“Over August very little happens in government – in some ways it couldn’t fall at a better time,” they told The Independent. “Calm down and get on with the process of a replacement.”
Despite frustration about Mr Johnson’s messy exit, another red wall MP told The Independent there was no real “appetite” among backbenchers to push for Mr Raab to take over.
Sir Bob Neill said in the Commons there is a “serious question mark” over how long a caretaker PM could remain if there were concerns about effective government, adding: “Might it be in everybody’s interests to speed up the transition?”
Despite several vacant junior ministerial posts remaining, Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told MPs: “Government business will continue to function … Other secretaries of state can deal with the issues for other departments.”