May to move or sack quarter of cabinet in wide-ranging reshuffle

Theresa May will give her government a new year reboot by carrying out what is expected to be her most wide-ranging reshuffle since her ill-fated decision to call a snap general election last summer.

The prime minister is expected to sack or move about a quarter of her cabinet on Monday in an assertion of authority that was impossible for her in the immediate aftermath of the loss of her Commons majority, when her post-election reshuffle involved minimal changes at cabinet level and no outright dismissals.

Justine Greening, the education secretary, is tipped by Conservative and government sources as the most prominent likely victim, with Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative party chairman, also widely expected to be replaced.

But Philip Hammond, the chancellor, Amber Rudd, the home secretary, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit secretary, are all set to keep their jobs, according to government sources, in a sign that, although May is in a stronger position than she was last summer she is still wary of picking fights with potential challengers.

In October she gave an interview in which she openly speculated about shifting the much-criticised Johnson. The idea has been floated again more recently, but Johnson has made it clear that he would not accept demotion to a lesser role and so the prospect of replacing him at the Foreign Office has been shelved.

But May will be appointing a new first secretary of state and Cabinet Office minister to replace Damian Green, who was in effect sacked before Christmas for not telling the truth about pornography being found on his office computer during a police raid in 2008.

Green was in effect the deputy prime minister, standing in for May at PMQs when she was away and playing a key coordinating role in Whitehall as chair of multiple cabinet committees. At one stage May was considering letting the title of first secretary of state lapse – prime ministers have often done without one in the past – and simply appointing a new Cabinet Office minister, but over the weekend government sources indicated that Green would be replaced as first secretary.

Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has been tipped as a possible candidate, but the NHS winter crisis would make moving him awkward and on Sunday one insider close to the process indicated that he was now out of the running for that post.

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, has also been named as a possible candidate, but May also has a history of making surprise reshuffle appointments, such as Johnson as foreign secretary and Gavin Williamson as defence secretary.

Although attention will focus on movements at cabinet level on Monday, a Downing Street source said that a key purpose of the reshuffle was to refresh the government at a lower level and to bring on new talent. Junior ministerial appointments will be announced on Tuesday and would involve “more women and more people from diverse backgrounds” coming into the government, a source said.

One minister tipped for promotion is Steve Baker, a junior minister in the Brexit department. Baker is already in charge of cross-Whitehall coordination for Brexit, but the Daily Telegraph is reporting that he will be promoted to a cabinet-level role – a move that would please Eurosceptics who want assurances that the government is serious about contingency planning for a no deal Brexit.

May also wants to show that the government has ambitions that go beyond Brexit, the source said. To reinforce the point, she will be making her first major speech on the environment on Thursday. Other key domestic priorities this year are housing, school standards and the NHS, and further May speeches on subjects other than Brexit are also expected in the coming weeks.

Greening was appointed education secretary when May became prime minister in July 2016, having previously served as transport secretary and international development secretary. But she has never shared the prime minister’s enthusiasm for grammar schools, and those around May claim she is too amenable to the teaching unions and not sufficiently committed to the free schools agenda.

In a clear hint that Greening is out of favour, Nick Timothy, May’s joint chief of staff until the general election and her closest policy adviser over the last decade, used his column in the Sun last month to deride Greening’s record, saying her social mobility action plan was “full of jargon but short on meaningful policies” and that “it would have been better left unpublished”.

McLoughlin, who attends cabinet in his capacity as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is expected to be replaced as Conservative party chairman because the Tory campaign machine performed poorly in the general election. Many in the party believe it needs more dynamic leadership before the spring elections where Labour is expected to do particularly well because the council seats being contested include metropolitan and London boroughs.

Two other cabinet ministers thought to be at risk of demotion or the sack are Greg Clark, the business secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons. Leadsom, who is seen as lightweight by colleagues, has already been demoted once, when she was moved from environment in the summer, and Clark has been accused of lacking zeal when it comes to tackling excessive executive pay.

In an interview on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday May reasserted her determination to fight the next general election as party leader. “I’m not a quitter. I’m in this for the long term,” she said.

“I’ve said that [I want to fight the next election] before. I’ve said I want to fight that.”

But in recognition that her party may have other ideas, she added: “Obviously, I serve as long as people want me to serve.”

Going up?

Jeremy Hunt: The health secretary has been tipped by many as favourite to replace Green as first secretary of state and Cabinet Office minister, although there were claims over the weekend that the NHS winter crisis meant he was now out of the running. He is particularly reliable as a media and Commons performer.

Brandon Lewis:As immigration minister Lewis already attends cabinet, but not as a full member. He has been tipped as the next Conservative party chairman, where he would be expected to beef up the Conservative campaign headquarters (CCHQ) machine ahead of the local elections.

Dominic Raab: A former Foreign Office lawyer, Raab is a minister of state at the Ministry of Justice and expected to get a department of his own. A pragmatic Brexiter, he was chief of staff to Davis when the Tories were in opposition and a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign.

Anne Milton: May wants to promote more women and some Tories think she should have made Milton, a former deputy chief whip, chief whip when Williamson moved on in November. A former nurse, Milton could replace Hunt if the health secretary moves.

Rishi Sunak: May is expected to give junior ministerial jobs to a number of high-fliers from the 2015 intake. Sunak, 37, an Oxford-educated businessman who replaced William Hague as the MP for Richmond, is one of those thought to be near the top of the queue for a job.

Going down?

Justine Greening: The education secretary is expected to be the most prominent victim of the reshuffle. A former transport secretary and international development secretary, May gave her education in July 2016 but then lost faith in her once it became clear she did not share May’s passion for grammar schools.

Sir Patrick McLoughlin: A former miner, the well-liked McLoughlin was a successful Tory chief whip and a relatively long-serving transport secretary. May made him Conservative chairman when she became PM, but CCHQ performed badly at the election and an overhaul is thought to be needed.

Greg Clark: The son of milkman, the business secretary should have prospered under the meritocratic, toff-averse culture May introduced when she became PM. But he is vulnerable because he is seen as resistant to her desire to curb fat cat pay, and leavers would like him replaced by someone more gung-ho about Brexit.

Andrea Leadsom:Runner-up in the Tory leadership contest in 2016, Leadsom has already been demoted, moving from environment secretary to leader of the Commons (and a cabinet attendee, not a full member) after the election. May is thought to want her out, although the prospect of Leadsom stirring up Brexit revolt on the backbenchers could yet keep her in post.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Andrew Sparrow Political correspondent, for The Guardian on Sunday 7th January 2018 20.06 Europe/London

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