Foreign secretary Liz Truss walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, September 15 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY
Foreign secretary Liz Truss walks outside Downing Street in London, Britain, September 15 2021. Picture: REUTERS/HANNAH MCKAY

London — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson made big changes to his cabinet as his Conservative government suffered a drop in support after announcing tax hikes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The overhaul to Johnson’s top team, which includes promoting international trade secretary Liz Truss to head the foreign office, a job Johnson himself once held, comes ahead of a challenging political winter.

Johnson is juggling high levels of Covid-19 cases with the recovery from the worst recession in three centuries along with pressure to diversify his government across the board.

The reset saw foreign secretary Dominic Raab, a lawyer by training, take on the job as top justice minister. Raab and ministers Gavin Williamson (education), Robert Buckland (justice) and Robert Jenrick (communities) had been criticised and touted for demotion in the UK press in recent weeks.

Truss, the most popular cabinet member among Tory members was given a top job while home secretary Priti Patel got to keep hers. For Johnson, the stakes had been rising. The latest YouGov survey saw the Tories losing their polling lead over Labour for the first time since January. 

While he still enjoys about an 80-strong majority in parliament, Johnson’s authority has been tested in recent months, including over the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan and new plans rushed through the House of Commons on Tuesday to introduce a new £12bn levy to fund the National Health Service and reform social care.

Covid criticism

He’s also faced criticism from prominent Tories over his approach to the pandemic including proposals — abandoned for now — to mandate vaccine certification to allow entry to venues including nightclubs.

Other looming challenges include ending the furlough programme that’s supported workers through the pandemic and the removal of a weekly £20 social security uplift that’s helped poorer families through the outbreak. There’s also a key round of UN climate talks to host, with some in Johnson’s ruling party sceptical of pursuing a green agenda.

It’s the first major shake-up of Johnson’s top team since a botched reshuffle in February 2020 led to Sajid Javid quitting as chancellor of the exchequer just a month before the annual budget, with the premier hurriedly installing the inexperienced Rishi Sunak in his place. 

In the event that proved an inspired promotion, with Sunak polling among the most popular ministers and gaining plaudits for various Covid support measures — so much so he’s now viewed as a leading candidate to succeed Johnson. 

Sunak is due to make tough tax and spending decisions next month as he grapples to rein in a budget deficit that ballooned to a peacetime record 14% of GDP in the pandemic.

Raab has been widely criticised over his handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He stayed on holiday as the Taliban took control of the country in August, and the government has acknowledged hundreds of British nationals and eligible Afghans have been left behind.

Williamson has come under fire over his handling of school exams during the pandemic, as well as preparations for the return of students after the first pandemic lockdown in 2020.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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