Nicky Morgan, the former cabinet minister, has won the contest to chair parliament’s influential Treasury select committee, beating the arch-Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg to position herself as a thorn in the side of the government’s plans for leaving the EU.
The former Treasury minister and education secretary was elected against Rees-Mogg, her nearest rival, by MPs across all parties. But she had particular backing from those on the Labour benches who want to stop May’s hardline Brexit plan to leave the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European court of justice.
Her victory means a prominent advocate of a soft Brexit will lead scrutiny of the direction of the government’s economic policy as it grapples with the impact of leaving the EU, a worsening economic outlook and pressure on Philip Hammond, the chancellor, to ease austerity.
Since she was sacked by May last year, Morgan has been one of the most prominent voices in parliament warning of the economic dangers of a hard Brexit. She beat five male colleagues in the competition, winning 290 votes against 226 for Rees-Mogg.
In the run-up to the vote, Morgan said she wanted the job as it “will be more important than ever to forge a wide consensus on Brexit and for parliament to question ministers on their decisions”, while Rees-Mogg said he would put his “strong views” on Brexit aside in order to achieve “consensus and balance”.
In a tweet posted after her win, Morgan said: “Delighted & honoured to be elected by my fellow MPs as Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee. Lots to do now.” Her fellow Conservative remain supporter, Anna Soubry, said she was “delighted”.
The contest for committee chairs including the Treasury role had been criticised by Jess Phillips, the Labour MP, for its lack of female candidates. Out of the 28 committees, nine or 32% of them will be led by women. But some of the most prominent – Treasury, home affairs, public accounts, health and business – now all have female chairs. Morgan is the first woman to chair the Treasury committee.
The positions of committee chairs are often hotly contested because they give powerful scrutiny roles enabling backbench MPs to hold the government to account. Senior MPs no longer on the frontbench, such as Yvette Cooper and Hilary Benn – who have both returned – have used their roles to wield significant influence as they get to question ministers and produce reports about the performance of May’s administration.
The committee elections only saw one upset as Tom Tugendhat, a former army officer considered on the moderate wing of the Tories, unseated Crispin Blunt as the incumbent chair of the foreign affairs committee.
Julian Lewis, a veteran Conservative, kept his role as chair of the defence committee, seeing off a challenge from younger Tory newcomer Johnny Mercer, while Neil Parish kept his job as chair of the environment committee as Zac Goldsmith, the controversial former Tory mayoral candidate, lost out.
Robert Halfon, the former deputy chair of the Tories and advocate of “white van conservatism”, took the reins of the education committee.
New Labour chairs included Rachel Reeves, the former shadow work and pensions secretary, taking the lead on the business energy and industrial strategy committee, and Lilian Greenwood, the former shadow transport secretary, who will run the transport committee. Clive Betts kept his leadership of the communities and local government committee, despite an effort to oust him by Labour MP David Lammy.
Norman Lamb, the former Lib Dem leadership candidate, was the only new chair from his party, winning the helm at the science and technology committee.
The results were announced in the House of Commons after a day of voting by MPs. A number of former chairs had already been elected to their old roles unopposed, including Cooper on home affairs, Benn on Brexit, Dr Sarah Wollaston on the health committee, Frank Field on work and pensions, and Meg Hillier on public accounts.