Theresa May's Cabinet reshuffle: First day as new Prime Minister begins with removal of Cameron's allies

New Prime Minister shocks Westminster with sweeping changes to Cabinet or - in her own words - 'getting on with the job' 

Andrew Grice
Thursday 14 July 2016 20:44 BST

Theresa May stamped her authority on the new Government by carrying out a ruthless reshuffle in which she exiled key figures from the Cameron era while promoting her own allies.

Allies of David Cameron, who had seen Ms May as the “Cameron continuity candidate”, were dismayed as his successor wielded the knife. She was accused of demolishing the “Notting Hill set”, the group of modernisers around Mr Cameron when he became Conservative leader in 2005. Some Tory MPs doubted that her appointment of right-wingers would help Mrs May deliver her pledge to govern from the centre ground and champion struggling working class families.

After sacking George Osborne on taking power on Wednesday, the new Prime Minister dismissed Michael Gove; Nicky Morgan, who backed Mr Gove for the leadership; Oliver Letwin, Mr Cameron’s policy chief and three Osborne allies --Matthew Hancock, Greg Hands and Baroness (Tina) Stowell, who was Leader of the Lords. Lord (Andrew) Feldman, another member of the “Notting Hill set”, resigned as Tory chairman and was replaced by Patrick McLoughlin.

Boris Johnson says Brexit vote does not mean leaving Europe 'in any sense'

Tory sources told The Independent that Boris Johnson had won his surprise promotion to Foreign Secretary after offering to back Ms May for the leadership while he was still a candidate, in return for her promising to stand aside later to make way for him. They claimed he became disengaged when Mr Cameron announced his resignation following the Brexit vote and that Mr Gove decided to run for the leadership because Mr Johnson lacked the appetite to become prime minister now. The claims will fuel speculation that Ms May rewarded Mr Johnson with the plum Foreign Office post – a charge his allies denied. Although he supported Andrea Leadsom’s leadership bid after pulling out of the race, he is said to have acted as an unofficial go-between for the Leadsom and May camps before Ms Leadsom withdrew from the contest.

Twelve senior ministers including Mr Cameron left their posts. The brutal reshuffle was dubbed “the day of the long knives” at Westminster – a reference to the “night of the long knives” when Harold Macmillan sacked seven Cabinet ministers in 1962. Ms May was also compared to Margaret Thatcher, who purged moderate Tories she dubbed “the wets” from her Cabinet in 1981.

Ms May promoted to her Cabinet three former Home Office ministers who worked under her -- Karen Bradley, the new Culture Secretary; Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary and James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary. Another May ally, Justine Greening, won a big promotion to an expanded Department for Education, which will take over responsibility for universities, further education and skills.

The Whitehall shake-up faced criticism as Mrs May was accused of downgrading the importance of climate change by abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change. Responsibility for energy goes to a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, headed by Greg Clark. Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP, denounced the move as a "serious backwards step" as it would mean no minister for climate change at the Cabinet table.

But the Prime Minister's official spokeswoman said: "This is a bold Cabinet. It's hitting the ground running. What you have seen with the appointments today is that commitment to putting social reform at the heart of her Government.”

Mrs May spared the sacked ministers the “walk of shame” past TV crews stationed in Downing Street by meeting them in the privacy of her Commons office. Other departures included John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary; Mark Harper, the Chief Whip and Theresa Villiers, who lost her job as Northern Ireland Secretary after the province voted to Remain and she backed Leave. Stephen Crabb stood down as Work and Pensions Secretary “in the best interests of my family” reasons after revelations that he sent sexually explicit WhatsApp messages to a young woman.

Surprisingly, Jeremy Hunt kept his job as Health Secretary despite his bitter dispute with the junior doctors over their new contract.

The number of women in the Cabinet rose from seven under Mr Cameron to eight under Ms May. The other women promoted to Cabinet rank were the prominent Leave campaigners Ms Leadsom, who became Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, and Priti Patel, the new International Development Secretary.

Mrs May tried to reassure Tory MPs by appointing Remainers and Leavers and right-wingers and moderates. The average age of Cabinet members –52-- is a year older than Mr Cameron’s team, after the recall of the veteran Eurosceptics David Davis, the Minister for Brexit, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.

The new Prime Minister is expected to visit Scotland shortly to underline her determination to keep the country in the UK even though a majority of Scots voted to remain in the EU. She will hold talks with Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister.

Barack Obama rang Mrs May to congratulate her on becoming prime minister in a 15-minute call described as “warm” by Downing Street. The two leaders agreed to maintain the much-vaunted “special relationship” but did not discuss the prospects of the UK securing a trade deal with the US. Mrs May told the US president she wanted "constructive and positive talks" with the 27 EU countries, a point she emphasised in a phone call to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President.

Speaking outside his new Foreign Office base, Mr Johnson said: “On Europe clearly we have to give effect to the will of people in the referendum, but that does not mean in any sense, leaving Europe. There is a massive difference between leaving the EU and our relations with Europe, which if anything I think are going to be intensified and built up at an intergovernmental level."

Philip Hammond, the new Chancellor, signalled a softening of austerity by pledging to do “whatever is necessary to keep the economy on track” after the “shock” of the vote for Brexit. He said the economy would require “a new set of parameters.”

For Labour, Jon Ashworth, the shadow Minister without Portfolio, said: “We had warm words from the Prime Minister on the need for her Government to stand up for more than just a privileged few. But Theresa May's appointments are completely out of kilter with her words on the steps of Downing Street. It’s difficult to see this new-look Cabinet as anything other than a sharp shift to the right by the Tories. The test now is to demonstrate that all members of the Tory Government are wholly committed to the priorities Theresa May set out.”

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