LONDON, Sept 15 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson began reshuffling his cabinet of senior ministers on Wednesday, hoping to refocus the government on raising living standards after the COVID-19 pandemic by moving some of his under-fire colleagues.
After months of criticism of several of his top team for missteps and gaffes, Johnson finally started a process some say he wanted to do many weeks earlier, to make the changes he feels he needs to press on with his “levelling up” agenda.
Johnson has made tackling regional inequality a priority for his government but the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed action on the promises he made in 2019, when he won the biggest Conservative Party parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher.
Gavin Williamson was the first to be sacked, as education minister, after being criticised for his handling of schools during the pandemic. Justice minister Robert Buckland was next, followed by Robert Jenrick, the housing minister.
“We know the public also want us to deliver on their priorities, and that’s why the prime minister wants to ensure we have the right team in place for that,” Johnson’s spokesman told reporters.
A source in Johnson’s office said he would be appointing ministers “with a focus on uniting and levelling up the whole country”.
Williamson said it had been a privilege to serve as education minister. His demise had been widely expected after he was criticized for his handling of school closures and exams during the COVID pandemic and for confusing two black campaigning sportsmen. read more
Justice minister Buckland was the next to go, with some Conservative lawmakers saying it was to make room for foreign minister Dominic Raab, who was criticized for going on holiday in Crete as the Taliban advanced on the Afghan capital Kabul.
Jenrick had been under fire over his role in a development proposed by a Conservative Party donor.
Rumours of a reshuffle, and who might be on their way up or on their way out, have been swirling for weeks.
Some in his party had suggested the threat of a reshuffle helped ensure Johnson’s plans for a tax rise to tackle a crisis in health and social care got party backing after it was widely criticized for hurting the lowest earners the most.
While critics accused Johnson of choosing Wednesday to overshadow the opposition Labour Party’s planned vote in parliament on the government’s decision to scrap extra support for low-income families.
But some Conservative lawmakers said it was long overdue, with one describing the cabinet as a boat and one which “is appallingly encrusted with barnacles”.
Additional reporting by Kate Holton and William James; editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Nick Macfie