Theresa May Starts to Reshuffle U.K. Cabinet


Even though Mrs. May’s de facto deputy, Damian Green, stepped down last month after he was found to have misled the public about pornography found on his work computer, she appears to be in a stronger position today than at any time since the general election in June.

The prime minister reached an agreement with European Union leaders in December to proceed with talks on trade relations after Britain leave, a process known as Brexit that is scheduled to take effect in March 2019. The accord was achieved without reawakening acute tensions in the Conservative Party over the extent of the post-Brexit ties between Britain and the bloc.

Mrs. May’s cabinet has been carefully constructed to balance those, like Mr. Hammond, who want to keep a close economic relationship with the European Union, and those, like Mr. Johnson, who argue for a cleaner break.

A desire to maintain that equilibrium partially explains why the two men are likely to remain in their posts, despite criticism of Mr. Johnson’s performance as foreign secretary and calls from hard-line supporters of a withdrawal for Mr. Hammond to be fired.

One minister who did leave the cabinet was James Brokenshire, who resigned as secretary of state for Northern Ireland for medical reasons, telling Mrs. May in a letter that he needed surgery to remove a small lesion in his right lung.

Despite the focus on negotiations with the European Union, Mrs. May is expected to try to use the reshuffle to try to freshen the government’s approach to domestic issues.

But most analysts believe that this is likely to have limited impact. Lacking a parliamentary majority, Mrs. May must often rely on 10 lawmakers from the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland to push legislation through. That weakness was implicitly acknowledged on Sunday, when Mrs. May said that she had abandoned plans for a vote on whether to reverse a ban on the divisive issue of fox-hunting.

And, despite her intention to focus more on domestic matters, the next 12 months will be dominated by the negotiations with the European Union, leaving ministers with little time or energy to tackle issues like health, transportation and housing.

The withdrawal negotiations are likely to be tougher than those that took place in 2017, which focused on issues like Britain’s outstanding financial commitments to the bloc, the rights of European Union citizens and the Irish border.

The next round of talks, which will involve an effort to secure a transition period after Britain leaves the bloc and to map future trade ties, could further destabilize Mrs. May’s government.

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