Theresa May vows to stay on ahead of cabinet reshuffle

‘I’m not a quitter,’ says UK prime minister, as up to six ministers face sack on Monday

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters

Britain’s prime minister Theresa May speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/Handout via Reuters

 

Theresa May has promised to remain as prime minister for “as long as people want me”, ahead of her first major cabinet reshuffle since last year’s general election.

Up to six ministers are expected to be sacked on Monday but the most senior ministers, including chancellor Philip Hammond, foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit secretary David Davis, are likely to keep their jobs.

In an interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday, the prime minister restated her ambition to lead her party into the next general election.

“I’m not a quitter. I’m in this for the long term. I’ve said that before. I’ve said I want to fight that. Obviously, I serve as long as people want me to serve,” she said.

Ms May said she expected to reach an agreement with the European Union by March on the terms of a transitional arrangement following Britain’s withdrawal in March 2019. She expressed confidence that Britain could secure a free trade agreement with the EU that will include services as well as goods.

Last month’s agreement with the EU to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks has reinforced the prime minister’s position among Conservative backbenchers. But she remains too weak to move any of her most senior cabinet colleagues, and her reshuffle will be constrained by the requirement to maintain a balance between hard and soft Brexiteers within the cabinet.

Vulnerable ministers

Among those at risk of the sack are education secretary Justine Greening, business secretary Greg Clark, party chairman Patrick McLoughlin and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom, who was Ms May’s rival for the Conservative leadership in 2016. The reshuffle was triggered by the sacking of Damian Green, the prime minister’s closest cabinet ally and effective deputy, after he lied about allegations that he viewed pornography on his computer in the House of Commons.

Ms May is not obliged to replace Mr Green as first secretary, but media reports suggest that health secretary Jeremy Hunt is the frontrunner to be elevated to the role.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said on Sunday that a winter crisis in the National Health Service that has left tens of thousands of patients waiting for hospital beds, should rule the health secretary out of consideration for promotion.

“They should be demoting this health secretary. If she promotes this health secretary tomorrow, it’s a betrayal of those 75,000 people in the back of ambulances,” he said.

Fox hunting U-turn

The prime minister risked alienating some traditional Conservative supporters on Sunday when she abandoned a promise to overturn the ban on hunting foxes with hounds, introduced by a Labour government. She said that, although she opposed the ban, last year’s general election sent a “clear message” that the public did not want to see it repealed.

“As prime minister, my job isn’t just about what I think about something, it’s actually about looking at what the view of the country is,” she said.

“I think there was a clear message about that and that’s why I say there won’t be a vote on fox hunting during this parliament.”