Tuesday 15 January 2019

Reshuffle in chaos as UK ministers reject move

British Prime Minister Theresa May
British Prime Minister Theresa May

Gordon Rayner

Theresa May's hopes of asserting her authority with a UK cabinet revamp fell flat last night after senior ministers derailed her reshuffle by refusing to move from their jobs.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt faced down the prime minister when she asked him to become business secretary, forcing Mrs May to tear up her plans to promote or move other ministers.

Justine Greening, who had been asked to move from education to work and pensions, dug in her heels during two and a half hours inside Downing Street, refusing the new role before finally resigning.

Mrs May's inability to impose her will on her ministers was mocked as "embarrassing" by some of her own MPs, with one government source describing the day's events as "the night of the blunt stiletto".

Downing Street had billed the reshuffle as a new year relaunch, but instead Mrs May's attempts to generate fresh impetus were scuppered as she failed to significantly increase the number of female or ethnic minority ministers in full cabinet roles.

Last night, with the reshuffle still ongoing, Mrs May had failed to sack a single minister. Having started her reshuffle at 11.30am, it took more than seven hours before a new face joined the cabinet.

Sixteen cabinet ministers stayed in the same roles, including Philip Hammond, Amber Rudd, Boris Johnson, David Davis, Michael Gove and Liam Fox. Three ministers resigned, three moved to other departments and four junior ministers were promoted to cabinet posts. One minister said: "It's the reshuffle that never was, it's bizarre. It just looks weak."

It follows the loss of Mrs May's majority in last year's general election and the fiasco of October's Conservative Party conference.

The biggest winner of the day was David Lidington, who becomes Mrs May's new de facto deputy after he was promoted from justice secretary to minister for the cabinet office, taking on most of the responsibilities left by Damian Green when he was forced to quit last month.

But the tone for what was to become a chaotic day in Downing Street started when the party wrongly announced on Twitter that Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, had been given the job of party chairman.

The tweet was swiftly deleted before Brandon Lewis was unveiled as the new man in charge of the Tories.


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