Boris Johnson's reshuffle, as it happened

15 September 2021

9:11 PM

15 September 2021

9:11 PM

Boris Johnson’s long-awaited cabinet reshuffle is over (at least for today). After weeks of rumours that the Prime Minister would shake up his top team, today Boris finally made his move. Here are the changes to his top team:

  • Dominic Raab has been demoted from Foreign Secretary to Justice Secretary, replaced by Liz Truss.
  • Gavin Williamson has been sacked as Education Secretary. Nadhim Zahawi will take on the job (the new vaccine minister is yet to be appointed).
  • Michael Gove has been appointed Housing Secretary. Steve Barclay is his replacement as Cabinet Secretary.
  • Anne Marie-Trevelyan has been appointed Trade Secretary, replacing Liz Truss who becomes Foreign Secretary.
  • Robert Jenrick and Robert Buckland have been sacked.

6.25 p.m. Katy Balls: After a long day of appointments, the drama is slowing and a slew of reappointments have been announced including Therese Coffey as Work and Pensions Secretary and Sajid Javid as Health Secretary. In terms of what happens next, attention in the parliamentary party is turning to the junior ministerial appointments. This is expected to take place tomorrow and, while less likely to grab headlines, it has the potential to cause the most disquiet in terms of party morale. More MPs expect to be promoted than there are jobs.

6.20 p.m. Steerpike: Sacked ministers Raab, Jenrick, Milling and Williamson all have something in common: they comprised the bottom four of Conservative Home’s most recent cabinet rankings of the Tory grassroots. Looks like ministers will need to brush up on their outreach to party members.

6.10 p.m. Steerpike: An amusing innovation for today’s reshuffle has been the photograph each re-appointed minister has to take after being informed of their new job status. Images on the No. 10 Twitter feed show different cabinet attendees posing in varying states of barely-suppressed happiness or feigned glee. Thus Ben Wallace, who many thought two months ago could be out at the MoD, looks like he’s just pulled a royal flush at the poker table. Demoted Dom Raab on the other hand, resembles a Hitchcockian victim moments before their demise.


6 p.m. Steerpike: One eye-catching appointment today has been right-wing Brexiteer Nadine Dorries as Culture Secretary in place of the softly-spoken Remainer Oliver Dowden. Dorries has developed a reputation during her 16 years in the Commons for plain speaking and her appointment suggests a more muscular approach from No. 10 on so-called ‘culture war’ issues.

5.55 p.m. Sajid Javid and Kwasi Kwarteng have been reappointed to their cabinet posts as Health Secretary and Business Secretary respectively.

5.25 p.m. Anne Marie-Trevelyan has been appointed Trade Secretary while Stephen Barclay goes to the Cabinet Office.

5.20 p.m. Katy BallsBen Wallace is staying on as Defence Secretary. His re-appointment is a striking contrast to Dominic Raab, who has been moved to the Ministry of Justice. While No. 10 aides are keen to suggest Raab’s demotion is not linked with the government response to Afghanistan, it is certainly the case that Raab’s reputation took a hit as a result of the chaotic withdrawal whereas Wallace — who was closely involved through the MoD — saw his stock rise among Tory MPs and the membership.

5.15 p.m. Katy BallsNadhim Zahawi is the new Education Secretary. This is a significant promotion for Zahawi who had impressed in his role as vaccines minister. Johnson views the education brief as incredibly important and sees it as a key plank when it comes to delivering on the levelling up agenda.

He had told colleagues he wanted to put a reformer in the role. Johnson is hoping the appointment will signal competence after a difficult period in education — Zahawi impressed in his role working on the successful vaccine rollout. He faces a daunting in-tray with a funding row brewing over the Covid education catch-up programme as well as the issue of grade inflation as exams return next year. His vaccine brief will likely come in helpful in the coming weeks as school children are offered the Covid vaccine.

5.07 p.m. Katy Balls: The new appointments are coming in. Oliver Dowden has moved from Culture Secretary to party co-chairman. Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries has been appointed as his successor. This is a big promotion for Dorries — who is a long-serving health minister. She is a long time supporter of Boris Johnson and her loyalty has been rewarded.

5.05 p.m. Nadhim Zahawi has been appointed Education Secretary.

5.02 p.m. There’s been a flurry of moves in the past hour but just to recap: Gavin Williamson, Robert Jenrick, Robert Buckland and Amanda Milling have all been sacked while Dominic Raab is demoted to Justice Secretary. Liz Truss is promoted to Foreign Secretary while Michael Gove has been moved sideways to MCHLG, with Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak and Mark Spencer all staying in post. Nadine Dorries joins the cabinet as Culture Secretary and Nadhim Zahawi becomes Education Secretary. Oliver Dowden is Conservative party chair.

5 p.m. Steerpike: Much has changed since Theresa May’s day but it’s good to see the tradition of reshuffle blunders is still alive and well. Downing Street has just released a graphic heralding Mark Spencer’s return to the post of Chief Whip by confirming him as the ‘Chief Secretary to the Treasury’ — a completely separate post from the ‘Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury.’ Three years ago of course CCHQ inadvertently released a Twitter graphic of Chris Grayling as the new Conservative party chairman and then deleted it 27 seconds later.


4.25 p.m. James ForsythMichael Gove is the new Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary. The immediate challenge for him is to work out what to do about the government’s planning reforms which have run into huge opposition from Tory MPs, a problem only exacerbated by the party’s shock defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. Gove has long been interested in this subject, he was shadow housing minister when the Tories were in opposition. Then, he was bullish about opening up more land for development. But as a home counties MP, he’ll be sensitive to Tory MPs’ worries about what a more liberal regime could mean for their constituencies.

Interestingly, Gove has also been put in charge of levelling up and given responsibility for the Union. This creates more of a link between these two areas. On levelling up, the challenge for Gove will be to give the idea some intellectual definition. At the moment, the concept is so broad that it lacks meaning.

4.20 p.m. Michael Gove has been moved to the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

4.10 p.m. Katy BallsLiz Truss has been confirmed as the new Foreign Secretary. Truss leaves her role as International Trade Secretary for the great office of state. It is a big promotion for Truss and a testament to how her star has risen in the past year. The longest-serving member of the cabinet, Truss has seen her approval ratings with the Conservative membership rise in recent months as her work securing trade deals has played well with the Tory grassroots. It means Johnson now has two women in the great offices of state — with Priti Patel staying put as Home Secretary. What will Truss bring to the role? She is viewed as more hawkish than her predecessor on China. Also expect a heavy dose of optimism — Truss’s time at trade has been notable for her tendency to talk up Britain on the world stage.

3.55 p.m. Katy BallsAmanda Milling is out as party chairman. This means there will be a new chairman brought in with just two weeks to go until Tory party conference. Milling is a long time ally and supporter of Boris Johnson. However, she had faced complaints from Tory MPs who blamed her for disappointing by-election results. She is one of the ‘old retainers’, the group of MPs that were in Johnson’s circle before he became Prime Minister. Johnson will know that Milling’s loyalty means she is unlikely to cause him problems from the backbenches.

3.45 p.m. Fraser Nelson: What’s a deputy prime minister? Normally, it’s just pretty meaningless, as Tony Blair demonstrated when John Prescott held the title. But David Cameron was more serious when he offered that job to Nick Clegg and I suspect Boris Johnson may be serious with Dominic Raab.

Word is that this title is meaningless, intended to soften the blow of Raab’s demotion. But I understand that No. 10 has for months been discussing creating a powerful deputy PM position. For a while, there was talk of Sajid Javid being brought in: as a nuts-and-bolts chief operating officer to Johnson’s smiling, hands-off chairman.

At present, MPs are scathing about the lack of political nous in No. 10 and say that Dan Rosenfield, the chief of staff, has a blind eye for this kind of thing. A deputy PM could fill this hole. As First Secretary of State, Raab deputised for the PM when he was ill with Covid and as deputy PM will keep doing so. It’s unclear what the responsibilities will involve, but don’t be surprised if it is a real job.

3.45 p.m. Katy Balls: Peace in our time? Despite reports of tensions between the Prime Minister and his Chancellor, it’s been confirmed that Rishi Sunak will stay in his role as Chancellor. In truth, it was always unlikely Sunak would be moved. To lose one chancellor — as Johnson did with Sajid Javid — is a big decision, to lose two starts to look rather careless. This doesn’t mean it will be plain sailing when it comes to the pair’s relationship, there are plenty of difficult spending decisions coming up the track. But this is a clear sign that Johnson wants to work through such friction.

3.35 p.m. James ForsythDominic Raab has accepted the role of Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor. After a lengthy meeting with the Prime Minister, he has agreed to stay in the cabinet with Raab being offered the title of deputy prime minister to ease the sting of what his colleagues will see as a demotion.

Raab has been done in by the government being caught on the back foot over Afghanistan. If the reshuffle had happened at the end of parliament’s summer term, which it probably would have done if it hadn’t been for the Prime Minister being pinged, he would almost certainly not have been moved.

As Justice Secretary, Raab has some immediate challenges. First, he has to deal with the backlog in the courts system that has been worsened by Covid. Second, he has to work out how to handle the question of judicial review. Robert Buckland believed that, with a new president of the Supreme Court, Lord Reed, the judiciary was striking, what he saw as, a more appropriate balance on political case. Third, there is the long-standing question of a British bill of rights. When Raab was a junior minister at Justice when Michael Gove was Lord Chancellor and David Cameron Prime Minister, Raab did extensive work on this. In his new role, will he revive it?

3.30 p.m. Rishi Sunak has – to no one’s surprise – been kept on as Chancellor.

3.20 p.m. Dominic Raab has been confirmed as Justice Secretary, Lord Chancellor and deputy prime minister

Screen_Shot_2021-09-15_at_15.23.41.pngDominic Raab on his way into Downing Street

3 p.m. James Kirkup: Was Gavin Williamson the worst Education Secretary in history? Sam Freedman, a former Tory education adviser, thinks so. But while the outgoing education secretary has few admirers, his time at the Department for Education wasn’t all bad. Read the full blog here.

2.40 p.m. Katy BallsRobert Jenrick has confirmed that he has been sacked. The Housing Secretary had been rumoured to be at risk in advance of the reshuffle. However, his sacking is still surprising in the sense that Jenrick is a relatively young politician who had been tipped as one to watch. He was part of the trio of influential MPs — along with Rishi Sunak and Oliver Dowden — who backed Boris Johnson early on in the leadership contest and were credited for getting his campaign to win over the parliamentary party off to a good start.

So, what went wrong? Jenrick has been caught up in a donor row over planning permission. It’s also the case, however, that when it comes to driving through reform, his performance has received a mixed reaction with the proposed planning reforms leading to a fierce Tory backlash. The rumour in Westminster is that Michael Gove could now be appointed as his successor. MPs say that Gove has been taking a very active interest in planning reform in recent weeks.

2.35 p.m: Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has been sacked from the government in the third dismissal of the day. The Newark MP was the first millennial to reach the Cabinet table but is out before his 40th birthday. He confirmed the news on Twitter:

It’s been a huge privilege to serve as Secretary of State @mhclg. Thank you to everyone at the department for their hard work, dedication and friendship. I’m deeply proud of all we achieved.

I will continue to support the Prime Minister and the Government in every way I can.

— Robert Jenrick (@RobertJenrick) September 15, 2021

2.15 p.m. Isabel HardmanRobert Buckland is one of the loyal cabinet ministers who is being cleared out to make some room. He has done his fair share of broadcast rounds defending the indefensible and explaining sheer nonsense. He also hung onto his role in the last reshuffle because he accepted a demand from Dominic Cummings to sack his adviser. But this approach only keeps you in a job for so long. His departure from the Ministry of Justice shows that Boris Johnson is keen to do a wide-ranging reshuffle rather than just cutting out the obvious deadwood like Gavin Williamson.

Justice is a real graveyard department: it has been dysfunctional for more than a decade now, not least because it has a high turnover of ministers — as well as suffering swingeing cuts in the early years of the coalition government. It had problems enough before the pandemic but prisons are now on their knees and the court system has a dreadful backlog, albeit one that plays a very small and quiet second fiddle to the waiting lists in the NHS when it comes to government bandwidth and media attention.

Buckland had been working on a Victims’ Law which those close to the legislation think was very much his pet project, and they now fear that with his departure will go that law too.

2.05 p.m. Katy BallsRobert Buckland is the latest minister to have been sacked from government. The Justice Secretary had not been among the names widely tipped to go. However, he may be a casualty from Johnson’s need to find new roles for those he plans to demote. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is rumoured to be offered the role.

It has been an honour to serve in Government for the last 7 years, and as the Lord Chancellor for the last 2.

I am deeply proud of everything I have achieved. On to the next adventure

— Robert Buckland (@RobertBuckland) September 15, 2021

2 p.m. James ForsythGavin Williamson has gone. He has tweeted that it was a pleasure to serve as Education Secretary and he has said that he’ll continue to support the Prime Minister and the government, implying that he is out of the government altogether.

Williamson has had a difficult tenure as Education Secretary. The school closures created all sorts of problems and there have been two years of badly disrupted exams. Last year was characterised by the attempt to use an algorithm to determine results which led to such a backlash that it had to be abandoned in days. This year, there was considerable grade inflation as teachers’ predicted grades were used to determine results.

There was a broad expectation that he would leave education in any reshuffle, but the question was whether he would be kept in government. His formidable organising skills (he played an important role in the last two successful Tory leadership campaigns) mean that many argued it would be safer to keep him in government rather than sending him to the backbenches. Among cabinet ministers, there is a view that some of Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent activity — making clear his opposition to raising taxes — was designed to show that he could cause as much trouble as Williamson if he was moved out of the Leader of the House role to make room for Williamson.

1.45 p.m. Gavin Williamson is out:

It has been a privilege to serve as Education Secretary since 2019. Despite the challenges of the global pandemic, I’m particularly proud of the transformational reforms I’ve led in Post 16 education: in further education colleges, our Skills agenda, apprenticeships and more.

— Gavin Williamson (@GavinWilliamson) September 15, 2021

1.30 p.m. Katy Balls: How drastic will today’s reshuffle be? In recent weeks, advisers have been struck by Boris Johnson‘s confidence — the fact he managed to get his party to vote in favour of a tax rise that most of them were against ideologically. One government adviser has described the Prime Minister as being in ‘world king mode’. It’s why government insiders believe the reshuffle could be quite punchy. Dominic Raab has left the Foreign Office in a car for the House of Commons and is tipped for demotion. Given he may not accept a demotion, there is a chance he leaves the cabinet altogether.

1.25 p.m. Steerpike: Dominic Raab has arrived at parliament. Reminder: sackings are in the Commons, to spare axed ministers the cameras. Promotions take place in No. 10.

1.15 p.m. Katy Balls: Boris Johnson has headed to his parliamentary office to begin the sackings, but who is set to get good news today? It’s worth remembering that Johnson has a number of promises to keep when it comes to the reshuffle. There are plenty of MPs who still believe they are owed jobs promised to them during the leadership campaign.

One to watch is Anne-Marie Trevelyan. The former international development secretary – who is currently an energy minister – was promised a return to cabinet when her department was closed and merged with the Foreign Office.

1.12 p.m. Steerpike: Cabinet ministers who are appointed or reappointed to their posts will be allowed to put out tweets and statements on arrival back at their departments, but this must first be cleared by No.10. Civil servants have been told to not set up any clips with new or returning ministers. Presumably so as to avoid some of the Twitter tech blunders in recent years…

1.11 p.m. Steerpike: At today’s lobby briefing, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman insisted Carrie Johnson had no sway in her husband’s decisions after Dominic Cummings branded it the #CarrieReshuffle.

1 p.m. Steerpike: As we await confirmation of cabinet changes, it’s worth revisiting the latest cabinet rankings for the Conservative Home website. A survey of Conservative party members put Liz Truss, Rishi Sunak and Lord Frost top, with respective scores of 85, 75 and 66 per cent.

Ben Wallace, Sajid Javid, Steve Barclay and Jacob Rees-Mogg all boasted high rankings too, with impressive scores of 50 per cent or higher.

At the other end of the spectrum is Gavin Williamson, propping up the league table on a woeful score of minus 54 per cent. The only other cabinet attendee with a negative score is party chairman Amanda Milling on minus 17 per cent, while Robert Jenrick and Dominic Raab poll positive figures in the single digits. Boris Johnson meanwhile was seventh from bottom on 13 per cent — not a great score from the primus inter pares.

12:45 p.m Steerpike: Reshuffles can often bemessy affairs. It was just three years ago that Chris Grayling was appointed Conservative party chairman for 27 seconds before the person running the official Tory Twitter account realised their mistake. David Cameron apparently did not hear Lord Hill trying to resign in 2012 so kept him in post; Tony Blair forgot Angela Eagle existed and so gave her job away without informing her. Will today’s comings and goings see a repeat of such shenanigans?

12.33 p.m. Steerpike: Gavin Williamson is giving a leaving speech for staff at the Department for Education, according to the Huffington Post. Where will he be heading next?

12.32 p.m. Katy Balls: Downing Street’s confirmation that the reshuffle is on comes after weeks of speculation that a shake-up of Boris Johnson’s top team was imminent. As I reported last night, ministers and advisers were working on the assumption that it would finally take place this week in part because the level of speculation was starting to have a paralysing effect on government. Ministers were putting off decisions and civil servants were proving harder to command. The first step of the reshuffle will be the sackings. Those who have been rumoured to be at risk of either demotion or facing the axe include Gavin Williamson, Amanda Milling, Dominic Raab and Robert Jenrick.

12.30 p.m. Steerpike: When Boris Johnson took office two years ago, he promptly sacked half of his predecessor’s top team, with another Cabinet reshuffle following just seven months later. He is said to be wary about carrying out another large-scale reorganisation of government, particularly given the challenges of Covid.

But there are several names who have been tipped for a move in recent weeks. Gavin Williamson, the seemingly permanent under-fire Education Secretary is highly tipped for a move – potentially to Northern Ireland. Michael Gove has been the subject of much speculation, with the Times suggesting a possible promotion to the Home Office in place of Priti Patel.

Another Great Office of State which could lose its minister today is the Foreign Office. Incumbent Dominic Raab attracted much criticism for his department’s slow response during the Afghanistan crisis. Could Liz Truss, the international trade secretary popular amongst grassroots members, fill the role instead?

12.25 p.m. Isabel Hardman: No. 10 confirmed that there would be a reshuffle while Prime Minister’s Questions was still going on in the House of Commons this afternoon. It hadn’t been a very comfortable session for Boris Johnson, who was repeatedly asked — and repeatedly failed — to explain how many additional hours a single parent on universal credit would have to work in order to make up the loss of the £20 uplift.

He was left taunting Sir Keir Starmer, whose party is leading an opposition day debate on the uplift, with pre-prepared lines on the lengthy essay the Labour leader is writing. He also used a quip he’s used before about the country still being in furlough if Labour had been in government.

It’s almost as if the reshuffle, dangled last week to keep Tory MPs and ministers in line over social care tax plans, is now being used to another tactical advantage: to distract attention from the universal credit row, which is becoming increasingly awkward for the government.

12.20 p.m. Isabel Hardman: A No. 10 source says:

The PM will today conduct a reshuffle to put in place a strong and united team to Build Back Better from the pandemic. 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.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Show comments