New UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has purged Brexit unbelievers from his new government in what shocked observers believe is one of the biggest Cabinet reshuffles in the UK’s political history that didn’t follow an election.
As more than half of former Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet were summarily dismissed to the backbenches (or pre-empted the move by resigning), one political commentator said Johnson was “bringing the Brexit gang back together”.
Some warned Johnson was gambling with his slim parliamentary majority with a “winner takes all” Cabinet and a former Conservative MP lamented that the “hard right has taken over” the party.
But others saw it as a deliberate message to the European Union: if they don’t change their minds and agree to reopen the Brexit divorce deal, this was a government willing and ready to jump off the “no-deal” cliff.
Sajid Javid arrives at the Treasury for the first time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. The former Home Secretary was the first minister to arrive in Downing Street and be appointed by Boris Johnson in his newly-assembled Cabinet.
The new Prime Minister wasted no time in pulling his team together, with a steady stream of new appointments coming in 10 Downing Street’s front door (or occasionally the back door due to a rowdy anti-Johnson protest in Whitehall) for the rest of the afternoon and evening after Johnson took office on Wednesday.
The top five jobs in government were all new appointments. Johnson himself, of course, followed by:
Chancellor Sajid Javid, the former Home Secretary, bank executive and son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants.
Javid has been a long-time Eurosceptic though he half-heartedly supported Remain in the 2016 referendum before embracing the result.
Home Secretary Priti Patel, the former British American Tobacco lobbyist whom Theresa May sacked as International Development Secretary in 2017 after she held secret meetings with Israeli officials while “on holiday” in the Golan Heights.
Patel, born in London to a Ugandan Indian family, was a high-profile Leave campaigner who until recently supported the death penalty and opposed gay marriage.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab – also named the first secretary of state – who had resigned last November over May’s Brexit deal.
The son of a Jewish Czech immigrant, he was an active campaigner in the 2016 Brexit referendum for Leave.
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is a former commander in the Scots Guard who used to support Remain but has changed his mind, more recently voting against giving parliament the power to stop a no-deal Brexit.
Johnson’s final opponent in the race for prime minister, Jeremy Hunt, reportedly had wanted to stay as Foreign Secretary but instead was offered Defence, which he turned down as a demotion and left government.
Johnson appointed his rival and frenemy Michael Gove as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, an old title that now translates as head of the Cabinet Office, where Gove will marshal preparations for a potential no-deal Brexit on October 31.
Gove was also a leading campaigner for Brexit.
And in another surprise move Gavin Williamson, former chief whip and campaigner for Remain, is the new education secretary.
Williamson was sacked from Cabinet this year after the then Defence Secretary was accused of leaking the conclusions of a national security council meeting discussing Chinese company Huawei.
His new job was seen as a reward for whipping support for Johnson’s leadership campaign, but which keeps him away from national security.
In other notable moves:
– Former Brexit campaigner Stephen Barclay was one of the few Cabinet ministers to keep their jobs, staying on as Brexit Secretary.
– Andrea Leadsom, a prominent Brexit campaigner, is the new Business secretary.
– Liz Truss, who backed Remain but has said she changed her mind on Brexit, came in as trade secretary.
– Theresa Villiers, one of the six Cabinet ministers to support Brexit in the 2016 referendum, is the new Environment Secretary.
– Matt Hancock, who had hoped for a promotion after fervently supporting Johnson at the expense of his own policies, stayed as Health Secretary.
– Grant Shapps, who stood down as minister in 2015 due to allegations of bullying in the party that he had allegedly ignored while party co-chairman, was reborn as Transport Secretary.
Shapps, a former Remainer, wrote in late 2016 he was “backing Brexit all the way, as hard as you like”.
More appointments followed, filling out the rest of the Cabinet into the night.
As Brexiters crowed the appointment of their “dream team” into power, others warned it was a political throw of the dice for Johnson to send so many respected politicians out of government, and favour one side of the divided party so sharply over the other.
As Johnson has a practical majority in the House of Commons of just two votes, even a slight rebellion could end his reign.
Retired Conservative MP David Mellor, a minister in the Major Cabinet, called it “the kind of reshuffle that Pol Pot might have engaged in … this is just a huge gamble for Boris”.
And disaffected former Conservative MP Nick Boles, now an independent, said, “Thatcherites, libertarians and No Deal Brexiters control [the Conservative Party] top to bottom. Liberal One Nation Conservatives have been ruthlessly culled. Only a few neutered captives are being kept on as window dressing.”