Boris Johnson will use his next cabinet reshuffle to boost the number of women in his top team, a senior aide has suggested.
Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s press secretary, refrained from setting a date for the next big alteration to the ministerial ranks, but admitted they should be more reflective of the country’s population – where women make up more than 50%.
On International Women’s Day, Stratton said Johnson “does accept that he would like to improve how representative his cabinet is of the population at large”.
And in a briefing with journalists, she added: “We know that there is improvement to come in the years ahead when he – who knows when this comes – when we have promotions to cabinet.”
Stratton said Johnson described himself as a feminist, but indicated he was unlikely to keep a previous promise to take paternity leave.
“He is the prime minister and he works a very long day, he has a huge workload and I don’t think he will be taking paternity leave,” she said.
Just over a year ago, in March 2020, Johnson was asked at a No 10 press conference whether he would take paternity leave following the birth of his son Wilfred, with partner Carrie Symonds.
He said he was likely to take his entitlement to two weeks off, but when he returned to work following a stint in hospital with coronavirus. Stratton said at the time that the paternity leave would be taken later in the year.
Five women are full members of Johnson’s cabinet, making up just 21.7% of its 23 full members, a number that increased from 22 last month with the appointment of Lord David Frost who leads on Britain’s relationship with the EU.
One of those five, the minister without portfolio Amanda Milling, is unpaid. And Suella Braverman, who is currently on maternity leave from her usual role as attorney general, usually attends cabinet but is not a full member.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has meanwhile penned a letter to his daughter, saying that this International Women’s Day he will “honour all the achievements women have made and … reflect on the steps we still need to take to secure equality”.
The letter, published in Grazia, said: “Throughout the pandemic, both Mum and I have been working, but many mums – many more than dads – have found that they’ve needed to quit their jobs as it’s been impossible to balance looking after kids and working …
“It means everything to me that I have a loving family of my own. That’s why it makes me angry that so many women are having to choose between their career and having children. Dads don’t have to make that choice, so why should mums? This is just one of the many challenges that women face that I don’t want your generation to have to face as well.”
Over the weekend, a Tory MP and chair of the women and equalities select committee, Caroline Nokes, urged Johnson to appoint more women to the cabinet to avoid shutting women out of decision-making about tackling the pandemic.
“The glaring omission when we went into the first lockdown this time last year was about women and childcare,” she said.
“Formal childcare settings were shut and informal childcare, granny and grandpa looking after children, was banned. For many women it was not possible to work from home.
“We need government ministers in the cabinet to look at things through a lens that includes women. We are 51% of the electorate – we cannot be forgotten. We don’t have enough women in the cabinet who are shouting out and standing up for women.”