Theresa May tries to revitalise ministerial ranks

Fourteen new junior ministers, eight of them women and five from ethnic minorities

Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes on Tuesday. Ms Nokes, who opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, has shown no interest in immigration as an issue since becoming an MP in 2010. Photograph:  Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Minister of State for Immigration Caroline Nokes on Tuesday. Ms Nokes, who opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, has shown no interest in immigration as an issue since becoming an MP in 2010. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

 

British prime minister Theresa May has sought to refresh her government after Monday’s botched cabinet reshuffle by introducing more women and members of ethnic minorities to junior ministerial posts.

Tuesday’s appointments brought 14 new ministers into the government, of whom six were men, eight were women and five came from ethnic minorities. Eleven of the new ministers were elected to parliament in 2015.

“This government is about building a country fit for the future – one that truly works for everyone with a stronger economy and a fairer society. This reshuffle helps us do just that by bringing fresh talent into government, boosting delivery in key policy areas like housing, health and social care, and ensuring the government looks more like the country it serves. It also allows a new generation of gifted ministers to step up and make life better for people across the whole UK,” the prime minister said.

Ms May sacked two junior ministers, including former international trade minister Mark Garnier, who admitted last year to asking his parliamentary assistant to buy sex toys, and two other ministers resigned. Among those brought into government is Shailesh Vara, a former justice minister under David Cameron, who becomes a minister in the Northern Ireland office.

Mr Vara (57) whose family were Ugandan Asians who came to Britain when he was four, became an MP in 2005 after a career as a solicitor in the City.

Suella Fernandes, chair of the European Research Group (ERG), a backbench caucus of Conservatives campaigning for a hard Brexit, becomes a minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union. Steve Baker, her predecessor as chair of the ERG, is already a minister in the department.

Surprise

Some of the appointments caused surprise, notably the elevation of Caroline Nokes as an immigration minister who will attend cabinet. Shaping Britain’s post-Brexit immigration policies is one of the most politically sensitive tasks facing the government but Ms Nokes, who opposed Brexit in the 2016 referendum, has shown no interest in immigration as an issue since becoming an MP in 2010.

The prime minister also surprised colleagues by moving Rory Stewart, one of the Conservatives’ foremost foreign policy experts, to the justice department.

Ms May’s cabinet reshuffle on Monday, which saw Jeremy Hunt refusing to move from health and Justine Greening leaving the government rather than give up her post at education, has been almost universally condemned as a shambles that exposed the prime minister’s weakness.

Fresh blow

Her authority suffered a fresh blow on Tuesday morning when the right-wing journalist Toby Young resigned from the Office for Students, a regulatory body for third-level education. Ms May insisted on Sunday that Mr Young should be allowed to remain in his post despite his long history of insulting women, sexual minorities and people with disabilities.

Mr Young said he was stepping down because his appointment has become a distraction, although he claimed that his attitudes had been caricatured by his critics. “But some of the things I said before I got involved in education, when I was a journalistic provocateur, were either ill-judged or just plain wrong – and I unreservedly apologise,” he said.