On 'Take Out The Trash Day' In Westminster, The Chaos Caused By Johnson And Truss Looms Large

Nearly £3m was paid out in severance to special advisers during the ministerial merry-go-round as the two premierships imploded.
Two resignation speeches on Downing Street.
Two resignation speeches on Downing Street.

It’s the “last day of term” in Westminster as MPs return to their constituencies for the six-week summer recess.

But political journalists aren’t on the beach yet, as the proroguing of parliament has become infamous for the government trying to “take out the trash”, and eagle-eyed hacks are keen for a good tale.

Say what now?

The more suspiciously-minded believe the annual SW1 exodus is a good opportunity to pile together potential news stories that you’d rather not draw attention to, dump them in one go, and hope no-one notices.

The phrase “taking out the trash” is well-known to insiders, stemming from a 2000 episode of the cult TV series The West Wing. It also has echoes of the government special adviser Jo Moore who sent an email on September 11 suggesting it was a “good day to bury bad news”.

Civil servants counter the claim by arguing that it’s less nefarious – parliament doesn’t sit again until September, and this thing really can’t wither on the vine until then, hence why dozens of official reports and statements come out at once.

So what were the biggest stories ‘trashed’?

The first revelation to emerge was Boris Johnson and Liz Truss each pocketing £18,660 in taxpayers’ money when they quit as prime minister.

The payout for Truss works out at around £380 for every day she was in the job.

Kwasi Kwarteng, who was Truss’s chancellor and the man who delivered the disastrous mini-Budget, was handed a severance payment of £16,876.

And Chris Pincher, who resigned as Johnson’s deputy chief whip after being accused of groping two men, received £7,920.

The payouts were revealed in the Treasury accounts published on Thursday.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg underling the chaos as the two premierships imploded, a separate Cabinet Office document revealed.

A much bigger total payout – almost £3m – was handed to ministerial special advisers (or ‘spads’) when they lost their jobs during the merry-go-round under Johnson and Truss. According to The Guardian, an astonishing 154 ‘spads’ were given money. The total was just £99,000 a year earlier.

When a minister loses their job, a spad goes too. Breaking it down, the advisers behind Truss’s 49-day premiership were handed £1m between them.

Truss and her £45bn of unfunded tax cuts announced on September 23 spooked the markets – leading to the pound dropping to an all-time low against the dollar, a crisis in the pensions market and spiralling mortgage rates.

Johnson was in effect ousted after scores of his ministers resigned after a string of controversies, including but not limited to the Pincher affair, his attempts to change the rules to prevent the suspension of then-Conservative MP Owen Paterson and partygate.

The severance figures are in black-and-white below.

From the Cabinet Office's Annual Report on Special Advisers 2023
From the Cabinet Office's Annual Report on Special Advisers 2023
UK Government
Labour’s shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry called the payouts to advisers “wages of chaos”.

Ministers are entitled to receive severance payments worth a quarter of their ministerial salary on leaving office, provided they are aged under 65 and are not reappointed within three weeks.

But some ministers who received severance payments last year returned to government within months.

They include Grant Shapps, who received £16,876 when Truss replaced him as transport secretary at the beginning of September 2022, but returned as home secretary a month later. He is reported to have given half of his payment to charity.

Among other news to come out of parliament on Thursday, the government confirmed it will miss its own deadline for providing schools with guidance on transgender pupils.


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