Sajid Javid is expected to make his first Commons statement since rejoining the Cabinet as lockdown-sceptic MPs hope he breaks from the approach of his predecessor and pushes for a swift lifting of restrictions.
Mr Javid, who became the Health Secretary following Matt Hancock’s resignation over the weekend, said on Sunday that his “most immediate priority” would be “to see that we can return to normal as soon and as quickly as possible”.
Hawks vs Doves
Mr Hancock became unpopular with some Tory MPs who believed that he was an obstacle to the easing of coronavirus restrictions.
As Monday marks a week before July 5, the midway point of the extension of measures and the earliest point at which remaining restrictions could be lifted, Mr Javid is expected to return to the Commons despatch box for the first time since he quit as chancellor in February last year, after being told he must sack all his advisers if he wanted to keep his job.
While it is not expected he will bring what is left of lockdown to a close any earlier than July 19, he is reported to be confident the measures will not extend past that date.
Ministers have promised to give one week’s notice to any change of restrictions.
Mr Javid is considered to be more in the so-called “hawks” camp of Cabinet opinion over the approach to coronavirus, alongside Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
In a resurfaced interview from May last year with Sky News, he voiced his concerns over long lockdowns and how they would impact the economy.
In contrast, Mr Hancock had been considered a “dove”, who pressed for more stringent restrictions.
'Baptism of fire'
Asked on Sunday whether Labour would support any change of approach under the new Health Secretary, leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “What we’ve seen today already I’m afraid is confusion, because the incoming Health Secretary said he wants to open up as quickly as possible. The Government’s now rowed back on that.”
Contrasting Mr Javid’s comments to journalists with a similar statement issued in his name by his new department, but omitting the “as soon and as quickly as possible” clause, Sir Keir said: “I don’t think it’s inspired confidence that already in day one, there’s been the Health Secretary saying his position this morning and then the Government rowing back on it.”
As well as the pandemic, Mr Javid has a myriad of issues to deal with such as upcoming NHS reforms, the backlog patients are facing for treatment, and a long-expected social care plan.
He will also face questions over NHS pay and staff burnout, as British Medical Association (BMA) council chairman Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned he faces a “baptism of fire”.
Mr Javid said he is aware of the “huge responsibility” of the job.
The former chancellor and home secretary’s return to the top tier of politics after 16 months came after pressure over Mr Hancock’s kiss with aide Gina Coladangelo, revealed in footage leaked from inside his ministerial office, became too much for the West Suffolk MP, who handed in his resignation to Boris Johnson on Saturday.
'Far from the end of the matter'
Reports suggested Mr Hancock was made aware of the footage on Thursday evening, and he apologised on Friday following its publication but did not immediately resign.
No 10 said the Prime Minister considered the matter closed following Mr Hancock’s apology, but pressure mounted throughout the day and into Saturday, and Conservative MPs began to call for Mr Hancock to go.
By just after 6pm on Saturday, Mr Hancock said he had been to see Mr Johnson to tender his resignation as his personal life threatened to distract from the pandemic effort.
Less than two hours later, Mr Javid was confirmed in the post.
But Labour said questions remained over a number of issues, including how Mrs Coladangelo – a friend of Mr Hancock from university – was hired as an unpaid adviser, and then to a £15,000 role at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and issued with a parliamentary pass.
It was reported that Mrs Coladangelo will also leave her DHSC role.
Sir Keir said: “Obviously there’s huge questions still to answer. If anybody thinks that the resignation of Matt Hancock is the end of the issue, I think they’re wrong and I think the incoming Health Secretary and the Prime Minister now have serious questions to answer about the CCTV, about the access, the passes, the contracts, etc.
“So the resignation is far from the end of the matter.”