Boris Johnson was continuing to reshape his Government after carrying out a major overhaul of his Cabinet.
Downing Street said on Thursday that Penny Mordaunt had been replaced as Paymaster General in the Cabinet Office by former solicitor general Michael Ellis.
Ms Mordaunt instead moves to the Department for International Trade, as the Prime Minister’s remoulding of his junior and middle-ranking team also saw John Whittingdale departing as media minister.
In a drastic reshuffle on Wednesday, Gavin Williamson was fired as education secretary following his handling of the exams fiasco during the coronavirus crisis, while Robert Buckland lost his job as justice secretary.
Mr Buckland was replaced by Dominic Raab, who was demoted from foreign secretary following widespread criticism of his handling of the Afghanistan crisis, during which he was on holiday in Crete while Kabul was falling to the Taliban.
Liz Truss succeeded him as Foreign Secretary, meaning two of the four great offices of state are currently held by women, with Priti Patel remaining Home Secretary.
Oliver Dowden was replaced as Culture Secretary by Nadine Dorries, and he instead was made Tory party co-chairman before quickly readying Conservative staff for the next general election which could be in 20 months’ time.
“You can’t fatten a pig on market day,” he was understood to have said. “It’s time to go to our offices and prepare for the next election.”
Michael Gove succeeded a sacked Robert Jenrick as Housing Secretary and was entrusted with a further key position in the post-coronavirus agenda by taking responsibility for “levelling up”.
On Thursday, Ben Wallace, who survived as Defence Secretary, insisted the Prime Minister did not sack any of his top team due to incompetence and said the treatment of Mr Williamson had been “unfair”.
“He has removed people from Government not because they’re incompetent, not because they weren’t loyal enough et cetera, which are often the narratives you see, but often he has to refresh his team and move people out the way,” Mr Wallace told BBC Breakfast.
Mr Johnson said his new-look Cabinet will “work tirelessly to unite and level up the whole country”.
Mr Raab was reported to have put up a fight against his demotion from the Foreign Office before ultimately being handed the compromise of Deputy Prime Minister, formalising a role he undertook when Mr Johnson was in hospital with Covid-19 last year.
During the Afghanistan crisis, there were clear tensions between Mr Raab and the Defence Secretary, but Mr Wallace insisted his colleague’s ill-timed holiday was not the reason he was demoted.
“I don’t think that’s why,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“Dominic is by trade a lawyer, he started his life in the Foreign Office as a human rights lawyer and he’s gone to the Ministry of Justice which is actually a very, very important role and a role he desperately understands.”
Some critics said the Prime Minister’s move to make Ms Dorries – a best-selling author and former star of I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here! – Culture Secretary was a move to ramp up the so-called “culture war” by promoting someone who has publicly criticised the BBC for supposedly favouring “very left wing” views.
Mr Wallace defended her credentials for the role, telling Sky News: “She’s sold thousands and thousands of books and now if that isn’t part of culture, media and sport I don’t know.
“What’s great about Nadine Dorries is she produces culture that people buy and actually want to see rather than some of the more crackpot schemes we’ve seen being funded in the past by taxpayers’ money.”
Nadhim Zahawi was rewarded for his efforts in ensuring a successful Covid vaccine rollout with the job of Education Secretary, while Anne-Marie Trevelyan returns to the fold as International Trade Secretary.
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