LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday appointed a new-look cabinet to revamp his Brexiteer government after controversies over Covid, Afghanistan and taxes, demoting his under-fire foreign secretary.
Dominic Raab was moved to the lesser role of justice secretary but will retain the title of deputy prime minister, Downing Street confirmed.
The former lawyer, who deputised for Johnson when he was in intensive care with Covid-19 in April last year, has faced sustained criticism for his handling of the Afghan crisis.
He was replaced by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, who has brokered a series of deals since Britain’s full exit from the European Union in January. She became only the second female foreign secretary in British history.
Among the other leading offices of state, finance minister Rishi Sunak — who has overseen big-spending economic support during the pandemic — and hardline interior minister Priti Patel both retained their roles.
Gaffe-prone Education Secretary Gavin Williamson meanwhile was sacked, tweeting that it had been a “privilege” to serve in his role since 2019 when Johnson took office on a vow to “get Brexit done”.
Now that Britain has formally left the EU after a years-long divorce process, the Conservative government has been battling to tame one of the world’s highest per capita death tolls from the pandemic.
Johnson enjoyed a “vaccine bounce” after Britain led the Western world in a mass immunisation programme, but the Conservatives’ lead over the main opposition Labour party has eroded in recent opinion polls.
Last week, Johnson broke an election promise not to raise taxes as he announced a new levy to fund the beleaguered state-run National Health Service (NHS) and elderly care.
Johnson on Tuesday outlined a plan to restore pandemic restrictions if needed, to avert a fresh crisis for the NHS heading into what could be a difficult winter with hospitalisations rising again.
After days of speculation, a Downing Street source confirmed the reshuffle was happening, saying Johnson would “put in place a strong and united team to build back better from the pandemic”.
“The PM will be appointing ministers this afternoon with a focus on uniting and levelling up the whole country,” the source added.
However, Johnson also faces criticism for failing to flesh out his “levelling up” agenda to rebalance growth in deprived regions of Britain, including former Labour strongholds of northern England.
Brexit point man Michael Gove took on cabinet responsibility for levelling up, as he replaced Robert Jenrick at the ministry of housing, communities and local government.
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021