Rishi Sunak has sacked Suella Braverman and made former prime minister David Cameron foreign secretary with a reshuffle that sent shockwaves through Westminster.
One was regarded as inevitable, the other was greeted with open mouths and audible stupor to seasoned pundits, reporters and politicians.
David Cameron’s arrival to Downing Street this morning (November 13) left Sky News’ commentators stunned. Political editor Beth Rigby described it as “a genuine “marmalade dropper” moment – no one was expecting that”.
He has been made Lord Cameron by Sunak’s reshuffle so he can take over at the foreign office with James Cleverly moving to the home Office.
Home secretary Braverman’s sacking was expected following a series of challenges to Sunak’s authority, the latest being her column in the Times about the London protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The prime minister’s far-reaching reshuffle is Sunak’s latest attempt to reset and revive Tory fortunes after the underwhelming King’s Speech followed the equally flat party conference.
Among the other big moves was Steve Barclay’s shift from health and social care to replace Thérèse Coffey at environment. Victoria Atkins is the new health secretary.
Conservative party chairman Greg Hands is out and has been replaced by Richard Holden. Laura Trott has taken over as chief secretary of the Treasury with John Glen moved to paymaster general from where Jeremy Quinn departs.
“This reshuffle is bolder than anyone thought,” said one former cabinet minister, quoted by Rigby. “The boldness is there, even if there is incredulity at some of his moves.”
Another Tory described as a “Sunak loyalist” believes the PM is finally grasping the nettle, saying: “He needed to shake things up and show who he is.”
The headlines have all focused on the massive moves at the foreign and home offices. How far sacking Braverman and welcoming Cameron back to the cabinet table in the reshuffle will work for the PM is to be seen but it has already raised immediate questions about Sunak’s leadership.
Cameron has plenty of his own baggage that could well undermine Sunak – not least introducing austerity, holding the Brexit referendum and his lobbying for disgraced financier Lex Greensill. The allegations made by the Sunday Times about Cameron’s involvement saw ex-BBC reporter Robert Harris comment that “if true, [it is] surely the greatest ethical scandal in British political history”.
But most attention, for now will be on the former home secretary and the threat she will pose to Sunak from the backbenches. One Braverman supporter said: “Suella is popular. The political establishment might tut about her views on protests, but our constituents agree. Rishi might have created a problem for himself. She will become a rallying point.”
Another, Andrea Jenkyns, who was promoted to schools minister under Liz Truss, has already submitted a letter of no confidence in the prime minister to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee following the reshuffle
“Enough is enough,” wrote Jenkyns, a famously staunch supporter of the disgraced former PM Boris Johnson, continuing: “It is time for Rishi Sunak to go and replace him with a ‘real’ Conservative party leader.
Posting on social media immediately as news of the home secretary’s exit was announced, Jenkyns wrote: “I support @SuellaBraverman Sacked for speaking the truth. Bad call by Rishi caving in to the left!”
The Guardian reports that Braverman’s supporters do not expect “significant immediate pushback against a cabinet that took a notable step to the centre” with the home secretary’s exit and return of Cameron. The newspaper adds that Braverman “is unlikely to stay quiet.”
A grouping of populist-leaning right-wing Tory MPs, going under the title the New Conservatives, met on Monday evening and “were said to be ‘far from pleased’” with the morning’s proceedings. The Guardian adds, however, that “Braverman’s future did not come up during a ‘group counselling’ session focused on policy and philosophy.”
The New Conservatives include Tory party deputy chairman Lee Anderson, Danny Kruger, Miriam Cates and Sir John Hayes.