Barring a big upset Boris Johnson will enter Downing Street as Britain’s new prime minister on Wednesday and begin forming his first government, finally fulfilling his lifelong ambition.
But after a drawn out and at times fractious Tory leadership contest, Mr Johnson and his team of supporters will not have much time to play with when the former London mayor crosses the threshold of No 10.
For the past few months, while the majority of the Johnson campaign team has been focused on guiding him to victory over the foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt, a smaller coterie of advisers has been preparing a plan for power, lining up senior cabinet appointments and key policy announcements.
While some of his allies have described the team as a “presidential-style transition operation”, others say it has been “very chaotic” adding that the warring factions of Johnson supporters vying for jobs is making it difficult to form a cohesive operation.
“No 10 will be like Game of Thrones but without Jon Snow at the helm,” said one Tory MP.
A united and clear transition plan is all the more important for Mr Johnson who has vowed to deliver Brexit “do or die” by October 31, the UK’s scheduled departure date from the EU.
One of Mr Johnson’s first acts after taking over from Theresa May will be to appoint the three core cabinet jobs: chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary. Despite reports that some big hitters such as Sajid Javid and Liz Truss have been lined up for senior positions, the Johnson team insists no decisions have been taken.
What is certain is that Mr Johnson is eager to make a clean break from the era of Mrs May. Chancellor Philip Hammond, justice secretary David Gauke and international development secretary Rory Stewart, along with allies of Mrs May are all expected to be pushed out — if they don’t quit first.
Last week nearly 40 Conservatives, including Mr Hammond, voted for or abstained from a vote for a parliamentary amendment that will make it harder for a Johnson government to take the UK out of the EU without a deal.
Some Conservatives are bracing themselves for a bloody reshuffle, similar to Harold Macmillan’s “Night of the Long Knives”, when seven ministers were dismissed in one night in 1962 in an attempt to rejuvenate his government. Others, however, think Mr Johnson might act more cautiously.
“I suspect Boris will only replace the people in the cabinet who have talked themselves out of a job,” said one Johnson-supporting MP. “Yes, it’s going to be a big change, but it might not be as vast as some people are predicting. Only he really knows the plan.”
Mr Johnson’s transition team is headed by Edward Lister who served as Mr Johnson’s chief of staff in London City Hall. The 71-year-old is likely to take up the same role in Downing Street, at least for a short period.
Supporters of Mr Johnson say “he knows the mind of Boris and can translate his broad ideas into specific policies”.
The other key members of the transition team are Oliver Dowden, a junior minister at the Cabinet Office, who served as David Cameron’s deputy chief of staff, and the health secretary Matt Hancock, who ran for the Conservative leadership himself before pulling out of the contest after the first ballot in June. Both are likely to be rewarded with cabinet posts.
Two other Tory MPs have been supporting the transition team, notably local government minister Rishi Sunak and chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss, who has been scoping out policies. The prominent Brexiter Jacob Rees-Mogg is also likely to enter government, possibly as chief secretary to the Treasury.
Despite a flurry of spending promises during the month-long contest with Mr Hunt, Mr Johnson’s aides acknowledge that his premiership will ultimately be judged on his ability to deliver Brexit.
There is also an acute awareness among his team that he could quickly face a general election if he is unable to break the deadlock with Brussels.
“Nobody in the right mind is going to advocate one [an election] this side of Brexit, but it’s not wholly in our control,” said one supportive MP.
Either way, the government will need a new domestic policy agenda to take to the country beyond leaving the EU.
“The Boris government will be obsessed with delivering Brexit by October 31,” said one supporter. But they will also want “a positive, optimistic agenda ready to roll out that can put Boris into No 10 with his own mandate,” the supporter added.
Allies of Mr Johnson said they expected “quick action” on social care and schools funding within the first 100 days of his government, as they are both issues that “hurt the party” during the snap 2017 election, which led to Mrs May losing her overall majority. One MP predicted that a green paper on social care, allegedly held up by the Treasury, will be published over the summer.
“The aim is to scrape as many barnacles off the boat as quickly as we can,” one ally of Mr Johnson said. “We need to address the negative stuff — like boosting police numbers — while setting out a new agenda to get excited about a Conservative government.”