Prime Minister Boris Johnson carried out a reshuffle of his cabinet on Wednesday, removing several key ministers including Gavin Williamson.
Williamson had been widely expected to be offered an alternative role – perhaps his old post as chief whip – but was instead dispatched straight to the backbenches.
This is the second major reshuffle since Mr Johnson became leader of the Conservative party and took over as prime minister from Theresa May in July 2019. The last one took place in February 2020.
Dominic Raab has been demoted, losing his job at the Foreign Office amid his poor handling of the Afghan crisis. He will now become the Justice secretary. Liz Truss, who has been promoted to foreign secretary from international trade secretary, was the most popular. The media-savvy darling of Conservative grassroots members and champion of free markets, replaces Raab.
No 10 also made a surprise appointment of Nadine Dorries, as culture secretary, signalling its determination to continue prosecuting the culture wars. Dorries is a longstanding and outspoken critic of the BBC, arguing against the continuation of the licence fee and labelling it institutionally skewed.
In the Department for Education, Williamson will be replaced by Nadhim Zahawi, an Iraqi-born entrepreneur who arrived in the UK as a child speaking no English. Zahawi is viewed as a safe pair of hands in Downing Street after his management of the Covid vaccination programme.
Gove emerged from the reshuffle as the secretary of state of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) with responsibility for enacting Johnson’s levelling-up agenda across government.
Gove will also have the job of defusing the row over radical planning reforms, which have sparked a backlash in traditional Tory seats like his own in Surrey Heath. He will also remain in charge of protecting the union and fighting elections.
Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary who was moved aside to make room for Raab, stressed in his resignation letter that the justice system was suffering from “years of underfunding”. “Justice is beyond price, and as a government we should always be prepared to invest in it,” he said.
Oliver Dowden, who is trusted by Downing Street, has been given the job of 'dismantling' the Tories’ election-fighting machine as party co-chair after recent by-election defeats in Chesham and Amersham and Batley and Spen.
Several high-profile ministers who had been tipped for a move, including the home secretary, Priti Patel, the leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and the Welsh secretary, Simon Hart, will remain in their posts.
The reshuffle came as Johnson and his team hope they have emerged from the worst of the Covid pandemic and can focus on other matters, including domestic reform.