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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - LONDON — Boris Johnson on Wednesday launched the first big reshuffle of his senior ministerial team by sacking three Cabinet ministers and removing Dominic Raab from the Foreign Office.
In his Cabinet rejig, the prime minister sacked Gavin Williamson as education secretary, Robert Buckland as justice secretary and Robert Jenrick as local government and communities secretary.
Johnson began reshuffling his Cabinet of senior ministers on Wednesday, hoping to refocus the government on raising living standards after the COVID-19 pandemic by moving some of his under-fire colleagues.
After months of criticism of several of his top team for missteps and gaffes, Johnson finally started a process some say he wanted to do many weeks earlier, to make the changes he feels he needs to press on with his "leveling up" agenda.
Raab switched from foreign secretary to justice secretary following the UK’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and criticism that he did not have a grip on the crisis. Johnson also appointed Raab as deputy prime minister, but the changes to his role were seen by Tory MPs as a demotion.
Johnson has made tackling regional inequality a priority for his government but the COVID-19 pandemic has eclipsed action on the promises he made in 2019, when he won the biggest Conservative Party parliamentary majority since Margaret Thatcher.
"We know the public also want us to deliver on their priorities, and that's why the prime minister wants to ensure we have the right team in place for that," Johnson's spokesman told reporters.
Amanda Milling was meanwhile removed as chair of the Conservative party. Several other key figures in Johnson’s Cabinet are expected to be moved into new roles. There is speculation at Westminster that Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove could take a new government position.
Johnson last shuffled his Cabinet in February 2020 after the UK formally exited the EU, but many of his senior ministers have not changed their roles since he became prime minister in July 2019.
Williamson, an early supporter of Johnson’s bid to lead the Tories in 2019, has been widely criticized for his handling of schools and examinations during the coronavirus pandemic. He tweeted it had been a “privilege” to serve as education secretary and he was “proud” of reforms he had led on post-16 education.
“This program will create better life opportunities for pupils and students for many years to come,” added Williamson. “I look forward to continuing to support the prime minister and the government.”
Buckland, who also held the title of lord chancellor, confirmed on Twitter that he would leave the government. “It has been an honor to serve in government for the last 7 years, and as the lord chancellor for the last 2,” he said. “I am deeply proud of everything I have achieved.”
A source in Johnson's office said he would be appointing ministers "with a focus on uniting and leveling up the whole country".
Rumors of a reshuffle, and who might be on their way up or on their way out, have been swirling for weeks. Confirmation of the reshuffle came as Johnson was on his feet in the Commons taking Prime Minister's Questions.
He remained in the Commons after PMQs, where he is able to sack ministers in his private office, away from the cameras in Downing Street.
Johnson has largely stuck with the cabinet team he appointed after winning the December 2019 general election. The one major change came in February 2020, when Rishi Sunak became chancellor following the resignation of Sajid Javid.
Javid returned to government in July this year as health secretary, following the resignation of Matt Hancock. Home Secretary Priti Patel has also faced negative headlines over allegedly breaking ministerial rules, a police pay freeze and bullying allegations.
But Patel was in a prominent position on the government frontbench at Prime Minister's Questions, sat next to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, with Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg to the right of the PM.
Other big Cabinet hitters could not be seen in the chamber, including Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, who has been tipped for promotion to a more senior role. — Agencies
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