Johnson appoints Belfast-born Conor Burns as Northern Ireland minister

Prime minister’s spokesman plays down Raab’s demotion by insisting new role is ‘crucial’

Boris Johnson has sacked a number of experienced junior ministers on the second day of his government reshuffle, and appointed Belfast-born Conor Burns as a Northern Ireland minister. A long-standing ally of the prime minister, Mr Burns moved to England when he was eight but he has maintained close links with the North and was in Belfast on Thursday visiting his former primary school, Our Lady of Lourdes, Park Lodge.

Mr Johnson demoted Penny Mordaunt, a Brexiteer once seen as a rising star at Westminster, from paymaster general to trade minister. And he sacked John Whittingdale, an experienced minister for whom the prime minister's wife Carrie once worked, as culture minister.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman sought to play down Dominic Raab’s demotion from foreign secretary to justice secretary, insisting that his new job was a crucial one.

"Dealing with criminal justice is one of the key functions of government and that's why the prime minister has sought to move Dominic Raab into this position, given his background and expertise in this area," he said.


“The government has invested significant resources to tackle court backlogs from the pandemic, put more criminals behind bars and provide better support for victims. It has seen an extra quarter of a billion in the last financial year for speedier justice, in addition to the £1 billion court reform programme, £85 million for the CPS to manage caseloads, for example.”


The spokesman denied that Mr Raab’s title of deputy prime minister was meaningless, insisting that it formalised his position as the minister who takes Mr Johnson’s place when the prime minister is away.

“It demonstrates his seniority within government and the trust the prime minister places with him,” he said.

“You can expect him to be involved in cross-governmental work when that is necessitated. I’m not going to be prescriptive while we are still in the midst of this process. It is clear he will play an important senior role in government.”

Defence secretary Ben Wallace on Thursday defended the appointment of Nadine Dorries as culture secretary. A figure from the right of the party and formerly a fierce critic of the BBC, Ms Dorries has written a number of bestselling novels.

“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. She’s sold thousands and thousands of books and now if that isn’t part of culture, media and sport, I don’t know,” he told Sky News.

Mr Johnson's reshuffle has been undramatic by recent standards, with Mr Raab's demotion the only one that required a tense negotiation. Criticism from within the Conservative party has been muted, although some MPs have complained about the sacking of Robert Buckland as justice secretary to make way for Mr Raab.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times