LONDON, Jan 9 – British Prime Minister Theresa May’s long-awaited government reshuffle was thrown into disarray Monday after a minister resigned rather than accept a new post. Education Secretary Justine Greening becomes the fourth minister to leave the cabinet since November, after resisting a request to move to the welfare and pensions ministry.
Most of May’s senior ministers kept their jobs in Monday’s reshuffle, including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit minister David Davis and finance minister Philip Hammond. The prime minister was prompted to carry out what her office called a “refresh” of the government after sacking her deputy Damian Green last month in a row over pornography found on his computer in 2008.
His departure followed those of the defence and aid ministers in unrelated scandals the month before, capping a tough year for May after she lost her parliamentary majority in a snap election in June. An interim deal on Brexit in December however gave May new impetus, and a long-anticipated reshuffle was arranged.
But it began in a farcical fashion when her Conservative party announced a new chairman on Twitter, only to delete the tweet and later name another lawmaker for the post. “No wonder Theresa May’s struggling to negotiate Brexit – she can’t even organise a reshuffle,” tweeted opposition Labour MP Stephen Kinnock. Alistair Carmichael, an MP with the pro-European Liberal Democrats, said: “Theresa May wanted to reassert her authority but has come out of this looking weaker than ever.”
Greening’s resignation later Monday is likely to be viewed as a challenge to May’s authority, while media reports suggest the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, also refused a request to move – and so stays on. For her part Greening said in a tweet that educational issues like social mobility matter “more than my ministerial career”, and vowed to continue to work for young people as a member of parliament.
May’s room for manouevre is limited by the fragility of her minority government and the need to maintain the delicate Cabinet balance of eurosceptic and pro-European ministers as major Brexit decisions loom. After starting the two-year withdrawal process in March last year, Britain struck a deal in December on the financial settlement with Brussels, as well as on expatriate rights and the Irish border.
Negotiations on a transition deal begin this month, while the toughest talks, on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union including trade, are set to start in March. Johnson, a leading Brexit supporter, kept his job at the foreign office, despite challenging May’s strategy last year, as did fellow eurosceptic Liam Fox, the international trade minister.
Finance minister Hammond and interior minister Amber Rudd, who campaigned to stay in the EU, continue as before. Greening was offered the welfare ministry “but declined to take it. The prime minister is disappointed but respects her decision to leave the government”, the Downing Street source said.
The former Conservative party chairman, Patrick McLoughlin, had been tipped for the sack after the disastrous snap election in which May lost her majority in the House of Commons. He also drew fire after a protester interrupted May’s speech to the party conference in October – an address that was also marred by a coughing fit and a collapsing set.
It was one of several low points in a turbulent year for the prime minister, who took office in July 2016 after the referendum on leaving the EU. Britain is due to exit the bloc in March 2019, and although it reached agreement on the key separation issues in December, the toughest talks on the future relationship have yet to begin. May was reportedly set to create a new “no-deal” cabinet post on Monday with responsibility to prepare for a possible breakdown in the talks.
Former justice secretary David Lidington took over the policy coordination role previously held by Green but did not inherit the title of May’s deputy. Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire, who failed to secure a deal to restore the power-sharing government in Belfast after it collapsed a year ago, stepped down for health reasons Monday and has been replaced by culture minister Karen Bradley. — AFP