LONDON -- British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shook up his government on Tuesday, moving ministers and merging departments in a bid to assert control amid ethics scandals and sniping from Conservative Party colleagues.
Sunak appointed lawmaker Greg Hands to chair the governing party, which is demoralized by dismal opinion poll ratings and a year of turmoil. Sunak is Britain's third Conservative prime minister in less than a year.
Hands, a former trade minister who has served in Parliament since 2005, replaces Nadhim Zahawi, who was fired by Sunak last month after failing to come clean about a multimillion-dollar tax dispute.
As deputy party chair, Sunak installed Lee Anderson, an ex-coal miner turned combative legislator from the right wing of the Conservative Party who once said people use food banks because “they cannot cook properly” or make a budget.
Sunak has vowed to restore order and integrity to government after three years of instability under predecessors Boris Johnson — brought down in summer 2022 by ethics scandals — and Liz Truss, who quit in October after six weeks in office when her tax-cutting economic plans sparked mayhem on the financial markets.
But he faces opposition allegations that the government remains mired in scandal and sleaze. Ethics inquiries are also underway over claims Johnson secured a loan with the help of a Conservative donor who was later appointed chairman of the BBC, and into allegations that Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab bullied staff. Raab denies bullying.
Sunak also rearranged the ministries responsible for business, energy, science and trade as part of his aim to boost the country’s sluggish economy and make the U.K. a science and technology superpower.
Kemi Badenoch, formerly in charge of international trade, heads a new Department for Business and Trade. Former Business Secretary Grant Shapps becomes Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero.
The government said the new energy department “has been tasked with securing our long-term energy supply, bringing down bills and halving inflation” after the cost-of-living crsis unleashed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
“I think we’ve seen over the last year in particular the impact that happens to people’s bills at home when energy policy doesn’t work properly, when we’re reliant on imported energy from hostile countries,” Sunak told reporters.
“That’s why the creation today of a new department focused specifically on energy security and net zero is so important.”
Opposition parties questioned the expense involved in setting up new ministries, citing an Institute for Government estimate of 15 million pounds ($18 million) per department in direct costs.
Environmentalists expressed skepticism that the restoration of a department solely in charge of energy — abolished by a previous Conservative government in 2016 — would help Britain reduce its carbon emissions.
“As climate disasters intensify, energy costs spiral and the world continues to sink under rising seas, without other fundamental reforms, re-establishing a department for energy will be as helpful as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Doug Parr of Greenpeace U.K. said.
In other moves, Lucy Frazer was appointed to secretary of state at the Department for Culture Media and Sport – formerly Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Its digital responsibilities moved to the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, headed by Michelle Donelan. ___
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