Rishi Sunak has risked reigniting the Conservative civil war by sacking his right-wing home secretary Suella Braverman and bringing former Tory PM David Cameron back into government as foreign secretary.
The prime minister’s radical reshuffle was welcomed by party moderates who “rejoiced” in Ms Braverman’s exit and the shock return of Mr Cameron – the self-styled “compassionate Conservative” – to the heart of government.
But Mr Sunak was told to “prepare for war”, as right-wingers keen on revolt claimed that at least 54 of Ms Braverman’s outraged supporters could soon submit letters of no confidence and trigger a vote in his leadership.
Arch Boris Johnson loyalist Andrea Jenkyns revealed that she had sent a no-confidence letter to the 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady, saying “enough is enough” and adding: “It is time for Rishi Sunak to go.”
The PM also got rid of Liz Truss loyalist Therese Coffey as his environment secretary and appeared to anger potential right-wing leadership contender Kemi Badenoch by ousting her ally Rachel Maclean as housing minister, while promoting moderate allies.
The new rift opened up as:
- Steve Barclay is demoted from health secretary to environment secretary
- James Cleverly is made home secretary as he moves from the Foreign Office
- GB News host Esther McVey is brought back into cabinet as “anti-woke” minister
- George Osborne says Cameron – given a life peerage – heard the “call of the trumpet”
- Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle says Cameron must be held “accountable” by MPs despite being able to avoid regular grillings due to his place in the Lords
Ms Braverman’s sacking followed widespread outrage over her accusation that the Metropolitan Police was being biased and “playing favourites” with pro-Palestine protesters – opening her up to claims that she incited far-right violence at the Cenotaph at the weekend.
Mr Sunak fired his home secretary over the phone early this morning. The PM’s press secretary said “clearly there were some issues around language” and said Mr Sunak believes collective responsibility is a “very important principle” when asked about Ms Braverman’s comments alleging police bias.
In a sign of bitter Tory divisions being reignited, Ms Jenkyns said Ms Braverman had been “sacked for speaking the truth”, while fellow right-winger Jacob Rees-Mogg described her removal as a “mistake”.
Disgraced former Tory MP Neil Parish, who quit after admitting to watching porn in the Commons, said Mr Sunak should “prepare for war” and said Ms Braverman was now “the standard bearer of the right of the party”.
And David Campbell Bannerman, chair of Tory members’ group the Conservative Democratic Organisation, claimed that “the numbers are now there” for a no-confidence vote in Mr Sunak.
It requires 54 letters of no confidence in Mr Sunak – 15 per cent of the party – going to the Tories’ backbench 1922 Committee to trigger a vote in his leadership.
But a senior Tory MP, close to the 1922 Committee, told The Independent that the idea of 54 backbenchers sending in letters was “nonsense” and argued that Ms Braverman had “nothing like” enough backers.
Senior Tory moderate Stephen Hammond also dismissed prospects of a confidence vote, claiming the right would make “lots of noise” by lashing out – but arguing that the anger could not hide “the reality of their numbers”.
John Stevenson MP, leader of the Tories’ Northern Research Group (NRG), said Mr Sunak was right to sack Ms Braverman. “The way she was conducting herself was not right for a home secretary.”
And even right-wing Tory MP Philip Davies – a Braverman supporter and senior figure in the Common Sense Group, run by her mentor John Hayes MP – played down the idea of a push against Mr Sunak.
“It’s very sad as I agree with Suella on virtually everything, but I don’t think she left him [Mr Sunak] with much choice,” Mr Davies told The Independent.
Tory deputy chair Lee Anderson was among those at a meeting of the right-wing New Conservatives group on Monday night – along with Danny Kruger, Simon Clarke and Mr Hayes.
One member said the group was “far from pleased” at Ms Braverman’s sacking – but only between 10 to 12 MPs were believed to have attended.
Moderates were delighted by the stunning appointment of Mr Cameron – who occupied No 10 for six years before his disastrous gamble on a Brexit referendum backfired in 2016 – as foreign secretary.
Mr Cameron was given a peerage – the “Barony of the United Kingdom for life” – enabling him to rejoin the government from the Lords. He will enjoy his ministerial salary but will give up the annual £115,000 allowance given to former PMs while he works in government.
Mr Cameron said he was “delighted and proud” to join Mr Sunak’s government, admitting that it was “not usual” for a former PM to return to government “in this way”.
Grilled on his disagreements with Mr Sunak on the scrapping of HS2’s northern leg and other issues, Lord Cameron said: “Of course I have disagreed with some individual decisions, but politics is a team enterprise. I have decided to join this team.”
His old ally George Osborne dismissed a claim by Boris Johnson ally Nadine Dorries that the move “opened the door” for his own return to government, telling his own podcast: “I certainly haven’t had the call.”
Mr Osborne said Mr Cameron was responding to “the sound of the trumpet”, and said he was pleased Mr Sunak had “re-established” a link to a moderate government “by appointing the chief Cameroon: David Cameron”.
The former chancellor said the PM was right to get rid of Ms Braverman – but warned that he had now created “an implacable opponent on the Tory backbenches”, adding: “She will move against Rishi Sunak.”
Former deputy Tory PM Michael Heseltine welcomed Mr Cameron’s return and said Ms Braverman “had to go”. The grandee told The Independent that the former PM would help bring some “sanity” back to the cabinet – but “won’t change the political climate dramatically”.
And ex-foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind said Mr Cameron’s return was “inspired”, but did not necessarily give the Tories a better chance of narrowing Labour’s huge poll lead.
“The government is now stronger, it is more unified. But John Major had a first-class foreign secretary and very good home secretary – it didn’t make any difference in 1997,” Mr Rifkind said.
Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle expressed his frustration at Mr Cameron’s appointment – saying he “looks forward” to hearing from the government how the peer will be “properly accountable to this House”, given he is not a sitting MP and will therefore not attend Commons debates or sessions.
Labour called the reshuffle another “Conservative clown show” and said Mr Sunak had exhausted all the names “at the bottom of the barrel”.
The Liberal Democrats said Mr Cameron’s appointment had the “stench of desperation” – calling for the peerage to be blocked over his role in the Greensill lobbying scandal, where it emerged that he privately lobbied ministers to attempt to try to secure access to an emergency coronavirus loan scheme for the failed firm, where he took up a role in 2018. Mr Cameron insisted that the controversy was “in the past”.
Elsewhere, Sunak loyalist Victoria Atkins was named the new health secretary, as Steve Barclay was demoted to the role of environment secretary after Therese Coffey’s exit from government. Laura Trott was promoted to chief Treasury secretary, while John Glen lost the job and becomes paymaster general.
Greg Hands was also demoted, leaving his Tory party chair role to become a junior business minister. Richard Holden, the combative “red wall” MP, replaced Mr Hands as chair in an attempt to keep some of the northern MPs on the right happy.
In other moves to placate those unhappy at Ms Braverman’s exit, the right-wing GB News host Esther McVey was given a cabinet role. She becomes minister without portfolio, but it is understood she will be Sunak’s minister for “common sense” with a mission to tackle “woke” politics in Whitehall.
Business secretary Kemi Badenoch appeared angered by Mr Sunak’s decision to get rid of Ms Maclean as housing minister, saying she was “very sorry” to see her ally go. Ms Maclean said she was “disappointed” to have been removed.
Responding to her sacking in a brief statement, Ms Braverman said: “It has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as home secretary.” Ominously for Mr Sunak, she added: “I will have more to say in due course.”
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