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Britain’s PM Theresa May tweaks team to face crucial Brexit year

Prime Minister Theresa May, weakened by the loss of the Conservative Party’s majority in an election gamble last June, moved to reshuffle her team of top ministers.

world Updated: Jan 08, 2018 22:18 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
British Prime Minister Theresa May (right) poses outside 10 Downing Street with the newly appointed chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, in London on January 8, 2018.
British Prime Minister Theresa May (right) poses outside 10 Downing Street with the newly appointed chairman of the Conservative Party, Brandon Lewis, in London on January 8, 2018.(AFP Photo)

There were no major surprises as Prime Minister Theresa May began the process of tweaking her cabinet on Monday at the start of a new year that will see defining talks in Brussels on the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

May, who had a difficult 2017 – described as annus horribilis – when she lost the Conservative party’s majority in the general election and then lost as many as three cabinet ministers, among other setbacks, hopes to give a fresh look to her team.

Downing Street called it a “refresh of her ministerial team”, but key ministers responsible for Brexit talks – David Davis, Boris Johnson and Philip Hammond – remained unchanged in their posts. Home secretary Amber Rudd too remained in her position.

There was speculation that two Indian-origin Conservative MPs, Rishi Sunak and Suella Fernandes, would be inducted as junior ministers to give wider representation to ethnic minorities. Sunak and Fernandes were first elected in 2015 and re-elected in the 2017 polls.

MP Rehman Chisti, a former advisor to late Pakistan People’s Party leader Benzair Bhutto, was named one of nine new vice-chairpersons of the ruling party. He shares the communities role with Helen Grant.

According to schedule, the UK is expected to leave the EU by March 29, 2019, which makes 2018 a crucial year to put in place several legislative and other measures, including norms for the post-Brexit stay of 3 million EU citizens here and about 1.5 million Britons in EU countries.

Justice secretary David Lidlington was made Cabinet Office minister, a post held until recently by May’s confidante Damian Green, who was sacked following a row over his accessing porn on office computers and his related statements.

Communities secretary Sajid Javed was retained in the post but housing was added to his portfolio, reflecting May’s intention to focus more on the sector in view of a growing crisis of social housing.

Brandon Lewis, who was immigration minister, was moved as chairman of the Conservative Party.

The reshuffle was continuing on Monday evening and appointments at the junior ministerial level were expected to be made on Tuesday.