LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has demoted his top diplomat and fired the education minister in a Cabinet reshuffle, as he attempted to move on from a series of political missteps and U-turns.
Johnson’s office said Wednesday the prime minister would appoint “a strong and united team to build back better from the pandemic.”
In the biggest move in the reshuffle, Johnson demoted Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who has faced criticism over the past month for delaying his return from a holiday in Greece as the Taliban took over Afghanistan.
Raab, who will be replaced by International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, has been appointed Justice Secretary, but with the added title of Deputy Prime Minister. It’s unclear what new powers the title gives Raab as it does not have any formal constitutional role.
Truss is a darling of the Conservative Party’s grassroots and has won plaudits for her hard work in negotiating trade deals, with the likes of Australia and Japan, since Britain left the economic structures of the European Union at the start of this year. Truss will also remain Minister for Women and Equalities.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson was the first to confirm he had been fired. He tweeted that it had been “a privilege to serve” in the job and “I look forward to continuing to support the prime minster and the government.” There was no immediate word on his replacement.
Williamson has been under fire for his performance during the pandemic, which has seen long periods of school closures, sudden policy shifts and the cancelation of major exams to get into university two years in a row.
Last week Williamson said he had made a “genuine mistake” by mixing up two Black athletes, soccer star Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje, who both campaign for more government help for poor children. Williamson told a newspaper he held a Zoom meeting with Rashford; in fact it was Itoje.
Rishi Sunak remains Treasury chief while Priti Patel stays in post as interior minister.
The last time Johnson carried out big changes in his Cabinet was after his December 2019 election victory, when he sidelined lawmakers considered insufficiently loyal or lukewarm in their support for Brexit. That left him with a strongly pro-Brexit top team, but critics say it shut many ambitious and competent lawmakers out of government.
Opponents of Johnson’s Conservative government say that lack of depth has shown as the U.K. confronted the aftershocks of its departure from the EU along with the public health crisis and economic blows dealt by the coronavirus pandemic. Britain has recorded more than 134,000 COVID-19 deaths, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.