Johnson rejigs UK cabinet as support for Tories take a hit

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a media briefing in Downing Street, London, Monday, June 14, 2021. (JONATHAN BUCKMASTER / POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is making big changes to his cabinet on Wednesday as his Conservative government suffered a drop in support after announcing tax hikes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The overhaul to Johnson’s top team comes ahead of the challenging winter months, juggling high levels of COVID-19 cases with the recovery from the worst recession in three centuries. The reset saw Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, a lawyer by training, taking on the job as top justice minister with White middle-aged men demoted and women in line for promotion.

It’s right that we have the team in place to deal with the public’s priorities. The prime minister has always understood the importance of having a diverse cabinet. 

Max Blain, Boris Johnson’s spokesman

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Raab and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had both been heavily criticized in the UK press in recent weeks, while International Trade Secretary Liz Truss — the most popular cabinet member among Tory Party members — has been tipped for a major promotion. The latest YouGov survey saw the Tories losing their polling lead over Labour for the first time since January. 

Williamson, Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick were confirmed as the most high-profile exits. The attention is now on who is getting promoted or slotted into a new position, with a clear political focus on diversifying the ranks.

While Johnson has about an 80-strong majority in Parliament, his authority has been tested in recent months, including over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and new plans rushed through the House of Commons on Tuesday to introduce a new 12-billion pound ($16.6 billion) levy to fund the National Health Service and reform social care.

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Britain's Education Secretary Gavin Williamson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on Feb 24, 2021.

COVID criticism

He’s also faced criticism from prominent Tories over his approach to the pandemic including proposals abandoned for now to mandate vaccine certification to allow entry to venues including nightclubs.

It’s the first major shakeup of Johnson’s top team since a botched reshuffle in February 2020 led to Sajid Javid quitting as Chancellor of the Exchequer just a month before the annual budget, with the premier hurriedly installing the inexperienced Rishi Sunak in his place.

In the event that proved an inspired promotion, with Sunak polling among the most popular ministers and gaining plaudits for various COVID support measures so much so he’s now viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Johnson.

Sunak is due to make tough tax and spending decisions next month as he grapples to rein in a budget deficit that ballooned to a peacetime record 14 percent of gross domestic product in the pandemic.