London Prime Minister Boris Johnson launched a long-awaited reshuffle of his cabinet on Wednesday, appointing his foreign secretary and several other ministers in a move designed to revive a government whose popularity now appears to be waning.
The biggest change came with the departure of Dominic Raab, whose position as foreign secretary was considered weak following widespread criticism of his handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. Lord Raab was is appointed secretary of justice but he was also given the title of deputy prime minister, softening the blow of a move that will be seen by many as a reduction in office.
Mr Raabs on foot during the evacuation of Afghanistan was further downplayed by his decision to delay his return from vacation after the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Three other senior ministers confirmed that they had left: Gavin Williamson, secretary of education, Robert Buckland, secretary of justice, and Robert Jenrick, Secretary of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
The change gives Mr Johnson a chance to reshape his government’s top levels ahead of a party conference next month, at which he will try to secure a clearer post-Covid policy agenda. But with the number of coronavirus cases still high, the government is also preparing for the possibility of an increase in hospital admissions in the fall and winter.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson unveiled his plans to fight the virus with winter approaching, saying Britain would provide boost vaccines for people aged 50 and over, and first strikes for children aged 12 to 15. His government is determined to avoid further blockage, but could use measures such as masked mandates if infections increase.
Following the successful launch of the Britains vaccine program earlier this year, the Johnsons Conservatives rose in opinion polls, but that lead now seems to be evaporating. Last week Mr. Johnson risked breaking an electoral promise not to raise taxes so he could allocate more money to health and social care.
His critics have also complained about a lack of clarity on the government’s key promise of leveling, which means delivering prosperity to economically poor regions.
As Secretary of Education, Mr. Williamson had faced harsh criticism for leading a crisis in school exam results last year. Mr Jenrick, as housing secretary, faced criticism after approving a property project involving a Conservative Party donor, and was responsible for a proposed easing of house-building restrictions in England, which was unpopular among some Conservative lawmakers. Mr. Bucklands’s stay was much easier, but his departure frees up a cabinet position for other moves.
But so far Mr. Johnson had been reluctant to move or fire members of a senior team, which was initially chosen primarily by his supporters and Brexit advocates, whom Mr. Johnson defended.
Since his landslide victory in the December 2019 general election, Mr. Johnson has made few changes to his cabinet, most notably in February 2020, when Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer after refusing to accept restrictions on the right his to hire his advisers.
Mr. Javids’s job went to Mr. Sunak, who has emerged as a leading figure in government and a potential successor to Mr. Johnson. However, Mr. Javid returned to the cabinet earlier this year as health secretary when his predecessor, Matt Hancock, was forced to resign from that post in June.
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