By Kunle Adedoyin
Boris Johnson has taken over as the new British Prime Minister and was quick to conduct a ruthless cabinet dismantling building his new team around personalities that helped deliver the Vote Leave result in the Brexit referendum.
Johnson, within hours of taking over from Theresa May as Prime Minister, sacked 11 senior ministers just as six others resigned from his cabinet.
Key casualties included Johnson’s vanquished rival in the Tory leadership race, Jeremy Hunt, who walked out of government after refusing to take the Defence Secretary job vacated by the dismissal of Penny Mordaunt, who had served less than three months in the job
Johnson’s massacre – removing more than half of the cabinet in a matter of hours – was the most brutal in modern political history, more in the fashion of the famed Night of the Long Knives, when Prime Minister Harold Macmillan sacked seven ministers in 1962.
Even prominent Brexiteers were not spared, with Ms Mordaunt, Liam Fox and Chris Grayling falling beneath Johnson’s axe as the new PM announced a team designed for an all-out 99-day charge for the EU exit door.
Some members of Johnson’s inner circle were rewarded, with long-time ally Ben Wallace eventually taking the Defence job and Robert Jenrick becoming Housing Secretary. Grant Shapps, who played a key role in his leadership campaign, became Transport Secretary.
Also some key figures from the Brexit side of the EU referendum were rewarded with plum jobs as Priti Patel becoming Home Secretary and Dominic Raab Foreign Secretary while Vote Leave arrow head, Dominic Cummings will be “Johnson’s chief executive” as a senior No 10 adviser.
Michael Gove, who was joint figurehead of the Vote Leave campaign alongside Johnson in 2016, became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with responsibility to lead preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit in October.
Other pro-Brexit politicians in Johnson’s cabinet include Stephen Barclay as Brexit Secretary, Liz Truss as International Trade Secretary, Andrea Leadsom as Business Secretary and Theresa Villiers as Environment Secretary.
Raab was also named First Secretary of State, a title normally reserved for the PM’s effective deputy.
Sajid Javid, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, was the only one of the four holders of the great offices of state to have backed Remain in the 2016 referendum, becoming the first Muslim to lead the Treasury.
Amber Rudd stayed as Work and Pensions Secretary and took on responsibility for women and equalities, while Matt Hancock stayed on as Health Secretary.
Robert Buckland was promoted from Prisons Minister to Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor.
Gavin Williamson, who played a key role securing MP votes for Johnson in the early stages of the leadership contest, returned to government as Education Secretary less than three months after being sacked for leaking secrets.
And Nicky Morgan, a former Remainer who helped devise the Malthouse Compromise plan to get rid of the controversial Irish backstop, returned to government as Culture Secretary after three years on the backbenches
Analysts believe the new appointments did little to reflect Johnson’s avowed intention to unite the country behind a new withdrawal agreement, leaving some observers to conclude he is heading instead for a fatal clash with no-deal opponents in parliament and an early general election.
The new cabinet will meet for the first time on Thursday morning, before Johnson makes his first statement as Prime Minister to the Commons, where he can expect a hostile reception from Labour, Liberal Democrats and pro-EU rebels on his own Tory benches.
Labour Chairman, Ian Lavery accused Johnson of creating “a cabinet of hardline conservatives who will only represent the privileged few”.
He said this included “a Chancellor who’s consistently called for more tax cuts for big corporations, Home and Education Secretaries who were sacked for breaches of national security and a Foreign Secretary who doesn’t know the importance of our ports.”
In his first speech as PM outside the famous black door of Downing Street, Johnson left no doubt of his determination to deliver Brexit by the Halloween deadline, with or without a deal, “no ifs or buts”.
But he also claimed he wanted to “unite the country”.
Westminster watchers said the lopsided construction of his first cabinet was unlikely even to unite his party, with a slew of big beasts now on the backbenches determined to stop a no-deal outcome.
And he goes into what will be a fraught period of negotiation with his working majority balanced on a knife-edge and likely to be reduced to a single seat by next week’s by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire following the stripping of Chris Davies of his seat because of an expenses scandal.
Lib Dem Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “I think all the leading Brexit campaigners who three years ago were talking about how the UK would secure a deal are now suggesting that actually the way forward for the United Kingdom is no deal.
“That’s certainly not what was proposed three years ago and I think has no legitimacy whatsoever. We have a prime minister who is willing to advocate that who has just been elected by 0.15 per cent of the population – one in 500 people – and says that no-deal is acceptable.”