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In Sunak’s top cabinet ministers, an emphasis on continuity


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain appointed cabinet members on Tuesday, mostly drawing on lawmakers who have held prominent positions in the past.

By Megan Specia


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak mapped out his new Cabinet on Tuesday with a flurry of announcements showcasing mostly familiar faces who have served in previous Conservative Party governments, reinforcing his desire for stability during one of Britain’s most fraught political moments.


Sunak drew on lawmakers who had held prominent positions before to fill the most senior positions, including a number of people who were Cabinet members during his predecessor Liz Truss’ seven-week tenure. He signaled his strategy with his very first appointment, choosing to keep Jeremy Hunt as chancellor of the Exchequer.


Notably, Penny Mordaunt, who challenged Sunak for the leadership role before withdrawing two minutes before the deadline Monday, was absent from key posts, instead being reappointed as leader of the House of Commons.


Here are some of Sunak’s appointments to major Cabinet positions:


Chancellor of the Exchequer: Hunt


Perhaps the most crucial Cabinet appointment was Sunak’s decision to keep Hunt in the post that is Britain’s equivalent to a finance minister — a role he had taken up this month amid an economic crisis engulfing Truss’ government.


Hunt, 55, is seen as a steady hand in a tumultuous party at a tumultuous time, a pragmatic politician who occupies his party’s middle ground. He held Cabinet offices for nine years under Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May, first as culture secretary overseeing the 2012 London Olympics, then as health secretary and, finally, as foreign secretary.


Truss and her first chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, tried to veer hard into trickle-down economics, with an aggressive tax-cutting that backfired, shocking financial markets and eventually forcing her from office. Less than two weeks ago, she fired Kwarteng and appointed Hunt, who quickly abandoned the tax plan, calming the markets.


Hunt has twice made bids for the Conservative leadership: In 2019, he was among candidates to replace May but finished second to Boris Johnson, and in the earlier race this summer to replace Johnson, he didn’t make it past the first round.


Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary: Dominic Raab


Dominic Raab, 48, was announced as Sunak’s deputy prime minister and justice secretary, returning to positions he held for a year, until last month. Although he had held several senior government positions, Truss did not name him to her short-lived Cabinet.


He was foreign secretary at the start of Johnson’s term in office as prime minister. Raab had to stand in for Johnson in leading the government in April 2020, when the prime minister was in the hospital with a serious case of COVID-19.


Raab, a hard-line supporter of Brexit, had also briefly served as Brexit minister for May before resigning from her Cabinet in disagreement over her negotiations with the European Union. He was first elected to Parliament in 2010.


Raab’s father was a Jewish refugee from Czechoslovakia who fled the Nazis in 1938. Raab’s paternal grandparents, who remained, were killed in the Holocaust.


Foreign Secretary: James Cleverly


James Cleverly was reappointed as foreign secretary, one of the most important roles within the Cabinet, despite the fact that he had notably supported Johnson rather than Sunak in the recent contest for the Conservative Party’s leadership. As late as Sunday afternoon, hours before Johnson withdrew his name, Cleverly continued to voice his support.


Cleverly, 53, whose mother came to Britain from Sierra Leone in West Africa, was once a lieutenant colonel in the army reserves and has long been a proponent of Brexit. He served briefly this year as the education secretary and before that held a series of junior ministerial roles.


Cleverly was also seen as a key ally of Truss’, defending her financial missteps, saying that “mistakes happen” but that it was time to move on.


Defense Secretary: Ben Wallace


Ben Wallace was reappointed as the defense secretary, a role he has held since Johnson brought him into the Cabinet in 2019. Wallace, who is 52 and a former soldier, is seen as a reliable stalwart, and his role leading the Ministry of Defense has proved particularly vital since the war in Ukraine began this year.


His tough stance on Russia has won him praise internationally, and he has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine, traveling to the nation’s capital of Kyiv late last month to meet with his Ukrainian counterpart.


Wallace backed Truss rather than Sunak in the leadership race this summer, and he decided not to seek the top government job himself despite urging from fellow Conservatives, telling The Telegraph in September, “I didn’t want it enough.” He has often said his commitment to his family comes before his political ambitions.


Home Secretary: Suella Braverman


Suella Braverman, who had served as the home secretary under Truss before resigning one day before the former prime minister, has been reinstalled as the home secretary.


Braverman, 42, had endorsed Sunak for the leadership role, but her dismissal last week, apparently because of a breach of security rules, has made her a more controversial pick. Truss fired her after criticism involving a government document that Braverman had sent to a lawmaker in Parliament through her personal email. She is part of the party’s right wing and holds a tough stance on cutting immigration numbers.


During the Conservative Party conference this year, she said it was her “dream” and “obsession” as home secretary to one day see a flight take off to Rwanda carrying people seeking asylum in Britain. The Conservative government has made an agreement with Rwanda to deport asylum-seekers who arrive in the country by boat to the African nation before their claim to refugee status is assessed.


Leveling Up Secretary: Michael Gove


Michael Gove, long an on-and-off ally of Johnson’s, was appointed by Sunak to a post he had held recently: leveling up secretary, responsible for improving conditions in regions of the country that have lagged economically.


Gove, along with many other government officials, told the scandal-scarred Johnson in July that he should resign. Johnson fired Gove, then the leveling up secretary, and announced the next day that he was stepping down.


Gove’s post includes overseeing local government, planning and building safety across Britain. The office is a key one for the Conservatives, who won the last election in part because of promises to “level up” failing communities across Britain to bring them up to the living standards of more prosperous regions, although critics say little progress has been made.


A staunch Brexit supporter, Gove, 55, was a contender for the Conservative Party leadership in 2016 and 2019.

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