Boris Johnson ruthlessly pushed aside a clutch of top ministers who have failed to deliver or fallen out of favour as he stamped his authority on the cabinet with a brutal reshuffle.
Gavin Williamson left his post as education secretary after a torrid period in office, with Robert Buckland ousted from the Ministry of Justice and Robert Jenrick fired as Housing Secretary. All three have been sent to the backbenches without a consolation job in government, Downing Street confirmed.
Dominic Raab lost his post as Foreign Secretary following frustration in No 10 at his handling of the Afghanistan crisis and will take over from Buckland as Lord Chancellor instead. The move represents a big demotion for one of the most senior figures in Johnson’s government.
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In an attempt perhaps to spare Raab’s blushes, his additional title of First Secretary of State is being upgraded to Deputy Prime Minister. That’s also a recognition of his time standing in for Johnson when the prime minister was in hospital with coronavirus last year.
The big winner from the reshuffle is Liz Truss, who moves from trade secretary to become Foreign Secretary. She’s been one of the most popular ministers among Tory party members and has been seen as a potential future leader. Johnson’s team also rate her highly as someone who delivers.
The other key cabinet moves include:
- Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi becomes the new Education Secretary
- Anne-Marie Trevelyan, an energy minister, is promoted to cabinet as International Trade Secretary
- Michael Gove gets the housing and local government brief after serving in the Cabinet Office for the past two years
- Nadine Dorries, previously a health minister, is promoted to her first cabinet role as Culture Secretary, replacing Oliver Dowden, who moves to become Conservative Party Chairman.
On the face of it, the prime minister has taken a hard look at his team, seen the criticism a number of them have attracted and acted ruthlessly. Jenrick was a lightning rod for complaints from Tories over the government’s proposed planning reforms, Williamson stumbled from one gaffe to another, compounding his poor record on steering the education system through the pandemic, while Raab was infamously on holiday when the US troop withdrawal plunged Afghanistan into chaos in the summer.
A government spokesman denied that Johnson’s wife, Carrie, has played a role in shaping the cabinet reshuffle.
A Downing Street source said the prime minister’s aim was to “put in place a strong and united team” who will focus on “uniting and levelling up the whole country.”
The Westminster reshuffle rumours have been swirling for weeks. Raab and Williamson were widely tipped to be demoted or sacked, with Priti Patel also tipped to lose her job as Home Secretary. In fact, Patel will keep her post, along with Rishi Sunak, who stays on as Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who remains Business Secretary, and Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, Downing Street said.
The last time Johnson conducted a major reshuffle, in February 2020, it went horribly wrong. Sajid Javid quit as chancellor in a stand-up row with the PM, after Johnson demanded the chancellor fire all his Treasury aides. Javid refused and resigned instead. There are already rumours at Westminster that Raab did not accept his new role without a fight.
Sources have been suggesting for weeks that a demotion – or outright sacking – could be on the cards for Raab, amid deep frustration in Number 10 at the Foreign Secretary’s handling of the crisis in Afghanistan. “It’s not the first time him being uncontactable has led to a UK response being impeded,” a well-placed source said, citing a “dysfunctional culture” in the Foreign Office under Raab’s leadership.
Jenrick had alienated backbench critics of his planning reforms, blasting them as ‘nimbys’ in private meetings, and generally behaving in what one well-placed source described as a ‘non-collegiate’ manner.
It remains to be seen what the shake up means for recent reports that the government had embraced plans for ‘Street Votes’ to facilitate local redevelopment, a pet project of some of the various young centre-right thinkers in the Adam Smith Institute and elsewhere who were among Jenrick’s most vocal supporters. Several people in the government suggested the plans were likely to survive.
Gove is said to have been keen to take on the housing ministry, an unglamorous position but one where “he actually wants to drive through reforms,” one source said.