LONDON, Jan 9 (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Theresa May’s leadership team shake-up, designed to restore her authority and address divisions over Brexit, was branded a shambles on Tuesday after one minister quit and media reported another had refused to move jobs.
“Night of the blunt stiletto” was the headline of the Daily Telegraph as newspapers judged that May had failed to draw a line under her travails of 2017, when her position as premier was severely weakened after she called a snap election and lost her Conservative Party’s parliamentary majority.
May had hoped to reset her agenda and strengthen her hand as Britain moves to the second phase of talks over leaving the European Union by shaking up her team of cabinet ministers on Monday.
“It’s an opportunity to refresh the government and just to give added impetus to the prime minister’s reform agenda while continuing to deliver on Brexit,” her spokesman said.
However, her party had to delete a tweet naming the wrong person as its new chairman. Then, Education Secretary Justine Greening quit rather than take a job as pensions minister. Finally, media reported Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt had simply refused to move roles.
With no changes to the senior finance, Brexit, foreign and interior ministers, opponents said the reshuffle showed her weakness and inability to reassert her authority.
“Greening quits in shambolic reshuffle”, the Times newspaper said while the Daily mail called it “reshuffle chaos”.
Despite winning an important agreement last month from the EU to move Brexit talks forward from a first phase to a discussion of future trade, May has been criticised at home for her approach to healthcare, housing, transport and Britain’s overall Brexit plans.
The Conservatives are also reported to be losing members at a time when the main opposition Labour Party, under leftist leader Jeremy Corbyn, is enjoying record levels of support, suggesting to some that it is on course to win a new election due in 2022.
“I appreciate there is a job of work to do,” new Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis told BBC radio. (Reporting by Michael Holden; Editing by Peter Graff)