LONDON – The UK government has said Prime Minister Boris Johnson will begin a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday in a bid to revitalize a government that now appears to be declining in popularity.
Much speculation about cabinet changes in recent weeks has centered on Foreign Minister Dominic Raab, whose position has been seen as fragile after much criticism of his handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. His position was further undermined by his decision to delay his return from vacation as the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Downing Street confirmed the reshuffle in a statement but provided no further details. “The Prime Minister will make a reshuffle today to put in place a strong and united team to better rebuild after the pandemic,” said a spokesperson.
A reshuffle would give Mr Johnson the opportunity to reshape the upper echelons of his government ahead of a party conference next month in which he will attempt to deliver a clearer post-Covid political agenda. But with the number of coronavirus cases still high, the government is also bracing for the possibility of an increase in hospitalizations in the fall and winter.
On Tuesday, Mr Johnson outlined his plans to fight the virus as winter approaches, saying Britain will offer vaccine boosters to people aged 50 and over, and the first injections to children of 12 to 15 years old. His government is determined to avoid an additional lockdown but could resort to measures such as mask warrants if infections increase.
After a successful start to Britain’s vaccination program earlier this year, Mr Johnson’s Tories have surged in opinion polls, but that lead now appears to be fading away. Last week Mr Johnson made a bet by breaking an election promise not to raise taxes so he could allocate more money to health and social services.
Critics have also complained about a lack of clarity on the government’s main national promise to “level up” – that is, to bring prosperity to economically disadvantaged regions.
Among the top ministers who have come under criticism are Education Secretary Gavin Williamson; the Minister of the Interior, Priti Patel, whose department is responsible for police and immigration; and Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick.
But so far Mr Johnson has been hesitant to move or fire members of a top-tier squad that was initially selected largely from his own Brexit supporters and advocates, which Mr Johnson had made himself the champion.