LONDON /January 8, 2018 (AP)(STL.News) — Prime Minister Theresa May attempted to re-energize her government with a Cabinet shake-up Monday as Britain prepares for a crucial phase in the negotiations over its departure from the European Union.
But May, who heads a minority government divided over Brexit, had limited room to make changes, and the overhaul could reinforce perceptions that her authority is fragile.
The most powerful ministers remained in place, and Education Secretary Justine Greening quit the government after refusing to move to a new post.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Brexit Secretary David Davis, Home Secretary Amber Rudd and Treasury chief Philip Hammond all kept their jobs. So did Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, a frequent target of criticism over failings in the state-funded National Health Service.
May’s decision to keep them in their jobs was in part a reflection of her need to balance Brexit-backing ministers like Johnson and Davis with more pro-EU politicians such as Hammond and Rudd.
May’s shuffle also was complicated by the resignation of the U.K.’s minister for Northern Ireland amid a long-running political crisis in Belfast. James Brokenshire said he was quitting because he is about to have surgery for a lesion on his lung and will need time to recover.
In a letter to May, Brokenshire said the operation meant he would not “be able to give the effort, energy and complete focus needed at this important time.” He was replaced by Karen Bradley, who moved from the sports and culture department.
Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration has been suspended for a year amid a stalemate between the main Irish nationalist and British unionist parties. The parties in Belfast have missed several government-imposed deadlines to restore power sharing, and Northern Ireland faces direct rule from London if a solution is not found soon.
The status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland also remains a major issue in Brexit negotiations.
Britain and the EU are set to begin discussing their future relations, with just over a year to go until the U.K. is set to leave the bloc on March 29, 2019.
May hopes to secure agreement on a post-Brexit transition period by the end of March and to draft a withdrawal agreement by the end of the year.
As Parliament returned from its Christmas break Monday, May summoned ministers to 10 Downing St. to be moved, promoted or demoted.
She removed Patrick McLoughlin, who as Conservative Party chairman oversaw last year’s disastrous election campaign. The party lost its majority in Parliament after May called a snap election in what became a failed bid to consolidate her grip on power and to strengthen her hand in the Brexit talks.
May lost a key Cabinet ally before Christmas, when de-facto deputy leader Damian Green was forced to resign for making misleading statements about pornography found on his office computer.
His role as May’s chief lieutenant was filled by David Lidington, who bears the grand title of minister for the Cabinet Office and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
May is set to continue shuffling government ranks on Tuesday. While Brexit divisions have restricted her options, she is looking to make her Conservative government more representative of Britain by promoting more women, people from ethnic minorities and recently elected lawmakers to leadership posts.