LONDON Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday launched a long-awaited shake-up of his cabinet, after which he swapped his foreign minister and several other ministers for a move aimed at reviving a government whose popularity now appears to be waning.
The biggest change came with the removal of Dominic Raab, whose position as foreign minister had been deemed weak after widespread criticism of his handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. Sir. Raab was appointed secretary of justice, but was also given the title of deputy prime minister, which softened the blow from a move that will be seen by many as a demotion.
Sir. Raab’s status during the evacuation of Afghanistan had been further diminished by his decision to delay his return from vacation when the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Three other senior ministers confirmed that they had been removed: Gavin Williamson, the Secretary of Education, Robert Buckland, the Registrar and Robert Jenrick, housing, communities and local government secretary.
The reshuffle gives Mr Johnson the chance to reshape the upper echelons of his government ahead of a party conference next month, where he will seek to provide a clearer post-covid political agenda. But with the number of coronavirus cases still high, the government is also preparing for the possibility of an increase in admissions in the fall and winter.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson laid out his plans to fight the virus as winter approached, saying Britain would offer booster shot vaccines to people aged 50 and over and first shots to children aged 12 to 15. His government is determined on avoiding a further lockdown, but may resort to measures such as mask mandates if infections increase.
Following a successful start to Britain’s vaccine program earlier this year, Mr Johnson’s Conservatives rose in the polls, but that lead now appears to be evaporating. Last week, Mr Johnson took a game by breaking an election promise not to raise taxes so he could set aside more money for health and social care.
His critics have also complained about a lack of clarity about the government’s main domestic promise to “level out”, which means delivering prosperity to economically disadvantaged regions.
As education secretary, Mr. Williamson has faced fierce criticism for leading a crisis in schools’ survey results last year. Mr. Jenrick, as housing secretary, faced criticism after approving a property project involving a donor from the Conservative Party and was responsible for a proposed solution to restrictions on house building in England that was unpopular with some conservative lawmakers. Mr. Buckland’s tenure was much smoother, but his departure frees up a cabinet position for other moves.
But until now, Mr Johnson had been reluctant to move or fire members of a top team that was originally selected largely from his own supporters and proponents of Brexit, which Mr Johnson fought for.
Since his landslide victory in the December 2019 election, Johnson has made few changes to his cabinet, particularly in February 2020, when Sajid Javid resigned as finance minister after refusing to accept curbs in his right to hire his own advisers.
Sir. Javid’s job went to Rishi Sunak, who has emerged as a leading figure in the government and a potential successor to Mr Johnson. However, 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.