Boris Johnson set to reshuffle cabinet - who could be in and out?

September 15, 2021

The prime minister is set to reshuffle his cabinet today, a Downing Street source has said.

"The PM will today conduct a reshuffle to put in place a strong and united team to build back better from the pandemic," the source said.

"Yesterday the PM set out his plan for managing COVID during the autumn and winter.

"But the government must also redouble our efforts to deliver on the people's priorities. The PM will be appointing ministers this afternoon with a focus on uniting and levelling up the whole country."

The last major cabinet reshuffle was in February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic started and the UK went into its first lockdown.

Who are the runners and riders this time?

Gavin Williamson: at risk

The education secretary's political future has been in doubt for well over a year after being embroiled in multiple crises through the pandemic.

Most notable was last year's A-level scandal, which saw thousands of students have their results downgraded through the use of a controversial algorithm.

Most recently, Gavin Williamson faced ridicule for telling an interviewer he had held a Zoom meeting with Marcus Rashford, only for his aides to issue a correction saying he had in fact confused the footballer with England rugby player Maro Itoje.

But although Mr Williamson's removal as education secretary is widely anticipated, it is possible he will remain in government.

Having previously served as chief whip, and played a role coordinating Boris Johnson's leadership campaign, some in Westminster believe he could replace Jacob Rees-Mogg as leader of the House of Commons. The rumour amongst Tory MPs is that Mr Rees-Mogg could then replace Stephen Barclay as chief secretary to the Treasury.

Dominic Raab: at risk

As foreign secretary, first secretary of state, and a former party leadership contender, Dominic Raab is one of the most senior figures in the cabinet.

When Boris Johnson was incapacitated by COVID, it was Dominic Raab who became the acting prime minister.

But his handling of the crisis in Afghanistan, following the Taliban takeover, has put him under very severe pressure - with other cabinet figures briefing heavily against him and opposition parties demanding he resign or be sacked.

As a former lawyer, it has been suggested Mr Raab could be moved to the justice department or the cabinet office - both important roles, but nonetheless a demotion from one of the great offices of state.

Liz Truss: tipped for promotion

If Dominic Raab were to be demoted, the rumour mill favourite to take his place in the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office is the current international trade secretary, Liz Truss.

Popular with party members, and seen as having been effective in her role negotiating post-Brexit trade agreements, Ms Truss would become the UK's second female foreign secretary after Margaret Beckett.

It would also cement her position as the longest continuously serving member of the current cabinet, having been at the top table since 2014.

Priti Patel: position uncertain

The home secretary has a reputation for being popular with party members - someone who Boris Johnson would be loath to move for fear of creating a powerful enemy.

But in recent months there has been speculation the record number of migrant Channel crossings has had an impact on her standing, with the Home Office seemingly unable to get to grips with the situation.

A regular survey of party members conducted by the Conservative Home website has seen her approval rating slip from being one of the top 10 cabinet members in May last year to number 20 of 27 in the latest update.

For all that, Boris Johnson will know that moving Priti Patel would be one of the biggest stories of any reshuffle he undertakes. Unless he is certain the benefits outweigh the risks, the home secretary could well stay where she is.

Michael Gove: tipped for promotion

His formal title is chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but in practice, Michael Gove is the secretary of state for the Cabinet Office - an expansive role with a remit that encompasses everything from handling aspects of the pandemic to constitutional reform, the union and many other areas of government.

As a result, Mr Gove is at times described as all-powerful, his influence extending into other departments, and at other times as a minister without full control of any particular policy.

Ever since he sabotaged Boris Johnson's leadership campaign in 2016 in favour of his own tilt at the top job, the relationship between the two men has been a source of intrigue.

But while some in government treat Mr Gove with suspicion, he has a reputation for being an effective operator in Whitehall. If there are big changes in any of the top offices of state, Boris Johnson could see him as a plausible candidate for any one of them.

What other rumours are circulating?

According to Sky's chief political correspondent Jon Craig, the 'tea room' gossip amongst Conservative MPs last week was that Environment Secretary George Eustice, Wales Secretary Simon Hart, and Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden could also be moved to different roles, or out the door.

Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, appeared to be relishing the fevered speculation last week as she teased political journalists by sending out a tweet that looked, at first glance, as though she was resigning.

Who could be promoted into cabinet?

Energy minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan lost her seat in Cabinet when the Department for International Development was disbanded but is expected to be returned when an opening arises. Eyebrows will be raised in Westminster if she is overlooked in this reshuffle.

Boris Johnson could also look to promote some of the female ministers who have been given increasingly prominent roles in media interviews in recent months. Victoria Atkins, Helen Whately and Lucy Frazer are all seen as potential candidates for promotion.

Gavin Williamson's expected departure from the Department for Education may provide a cabinet opening for vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi, who previously served as an education minister, long-time Boris Johnson ally Kit Malthouse, who is currently a Home Office minister, or the equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.

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