Digital ministerial posts up for grabs after mass resignations

Brace of positions in DCMS addressing national digital policy, infrastructure and online harms must now be refilled after resignations of Julia Lopez and Chris Philp

Credit: Parliament/CC BY 3.0

Julia Lopez, the UK’s minister for digital infrastructure and data, yesterday resigned from her post with a clear message to beleaguered prime minister Boris Johnson: resign immediately, for the good of the country.

Her departure was followed this morning by another Chris Philp, the minister for tech and the digital economy, whose own call for the PM to step down cited the importance of “integrity, honesty, and trust in politics”.

It is a message that has, finally, been somewhat heeded – with Johnson now having resigned his leadership of the Conservative partry. He will, however, seemingly remain in place as prime minister until a new Tory chief is chosen.

The departure of Lopez and Philp means that two key ministerial posts for the UK’s digital sector now need to be restaffed – presumably by the outgoing prime minister. Both roles are based in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and their areas of oversight include the UK’s digital and data policy, national cybersecurity, technology infrastructure, online harms, and the tech economy.

Lopez was one of five ministers – spread across four departments – who jointly resigned on Wednesday afternoon in a letter to the PM. At the time of their missive, the quintet took the running total of government resignations to 26 – a figure which has ultimately rose to more than 50. The mass exodus began on Tuesday with the two most high-profile ministerial departures: chancellor Rishi Sunak; and health secretary Sajid Javid.

Of the many that have since followed the front-bench duo through the exit door, Lopez and her four other joint resignees expressed their collective admiration for Johnson’s “fortitude, stamina and enduring optimism” and their continued belief that he “can be rightly proud of the significant decisions which [he has], by common acclamation, got right”.

“It is with great regret that we are resigning as members of the government. It has been an honour to serve in your administration and we remain extremely grateful for the opportunity you have given us to serve our country,” they wrote.

“However, it has become increasingly clear that the government cannot function, given the issues that have come to light and the way in which they have been handled.

“In good faith, we must ask that, for the good of the party and the country, you step aside.”

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Philp this morning wrote to Johnson in a letter which expressed his pride in government’s achievements in his areas of ministerial oversight, which include digital policy, online safety, and gambling. He also stressed the importance that work is continued to delivered new measures intended to prevent harms from gambling and dangerous content online.

“If the government requires any practical assistance getting the [Online Safety Bill] through the Commons report stage, given the scarcity of ministers, I would be happy to provide it,” he said.

“Important though… these things are, so are integrity, honesty and trust in politics. Given events over the past few weeks and months, I therefore think that you should resign as prime minister and it follows that I cannot serve in your government any longer.”

Shortly after tendering his resignation, the former minister reiterated to Sky News that he would be theoretically be “happy to serve… in whatever capacity” in assisting the progress of the legislation he previously worked on – or even potentially return to ministerial office once the dust has settled.

“I’m not asking for that [and] I’m not expecting it,” he added. “I resigned and, when you resign, you resign.”

Philp’s tenure at DCMS began only in September 2021. He joined the digital department after 18 months in a junior ministerial post jointly split between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. Prior to that, the Croydon South MP spent a very brief spell in the then Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government as minister for London.

Ministerial mainstay
Lopez’s resignation came exactly one month after she was one of 211 Tory MPs who supported Johnson in a parliamentary vote of no confidence – which the PM won, despite a sizeable rebellion in which 148 members of his own party voted against him.

Confirming on Twitter that she would continue to back Johnson, she pointed to the “need [for] united Conservative focus on growth, lower tax and people’s priorities”.

One month on, she has been brought to an end a two-and-a-half-year spell in government that has made her – compared with many of her predecessors – something of a minsterial mainstay of the digital scene.

Lopez was first appointed in February 2020 to a ministerial post in the Cabinet Office in which she had oversight of digital government issues.

She made a quick impact, using her very first public speech in office to unveil the vision for what is now the One Login project, a £400m digital programme to deliver a single unified system through which citizens will access government services delivered across all departments.

During her 18-month stint in the Cabinet Office, Lopez also oversaw another major shift in the digital government landscape, as the newly created Central Digital and Data Office was, effectively, spun out of the Government Digital Service. Since the division of labour, which took place early last year, CDDO has taken over responsibility for overall digital and data strategy across government, as well as standards, controls, and accessibility. GDS, meanwhile, has streamlined its focus on delivery of digital platforms and services.

In a Cabinet reshuffle that took place in September 2021, Lopez was moved to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – although she retained a focus on technology issues, in a post as minister for media, data and digital infrastructure. 

Since joining DCMS, she has been involved in several significant policies and programmes, including initiatives to boost the rollout of 5G networks, implement a government-led regulated framework of digital identities, and deliver a National Cyber Strategy, which was published late last year.

Lopez remains MP for Hornchurch and Upminster, where she was first elected in 2017, having previously served as a local councillor in the London borough of Tower Hamlets and worked in Westminster as a parliamentary aide.

Her resignation was tendered jointly with: Kemi Badenoch, minister for local government, faith, and communities; Neil O’Brien, minister for levelling-up, the union, and constitution; Alex Burghart, minister for skills; and Lee Rowley, minister for industry.

Among other tech-focused ministers, Lopez’s former boss at DCMS, digital secretary Nadine Dorries, seemingly remained a loyal supporter of Boris Johnson until the end. She also remains in situ in her ministerial post. Heather Wheeler, who now holds Lopez’s former brief as minister for digital government, also remains in place at the Cabinet Office, and has made no public statement either supporting or decrying the prime minister.


Sam Trendall

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