Boris Johnson wields the axe as he sacks five members of Cabinet in reshuffle
Boris Johnson has sacked five Cabinet ministers in a reshuffle aimed at setting "the foundations for government now and in the future".
Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox had all been expected to be removed from their posts - with the exits confirmed after the trio met the Prime Minister on Thursday morning.
But the news that Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith had also been culled came as a shock, after he helped broker the return of the Stormont government just weeks ago.
Housing minister Esther McVey, who attended Cabinet meetings, was also sacked – meaning her replacement will be the 10th person to take on the role in 10 years.
The Prime Minister is now expected to hand promotions to a string of female Conservative MPs, including Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Suella Braverman and Gillian Keegan.
As well as five from around the Cabinet table, three other ministers were sent to the backbenches on Thursday morning; transport ministers Nusrat Ghani and George Freeman, and universities minister Chris Skidmore.
The Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, who was given a peerage to remain in her position after standing down as an MP in December, is also expected to be replaced.
But Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Therese Coffey at the Department for Work and Pensions, who were both tipped to go, are now set to stay on in Cabinet.
International Development Secretary Alok Sharma is expected to be promoted, while Paymaster General Oliver Dowden is also set to be handed a greater role.
A Number 10 source said: "The Prime Minister wants this reshuffle to set the foundations for government now and in the future.
"He wants to promote a generation of talent that will be promoted further in the coming years."
Mr Smith, who was the first to be delivered the bad news by the PM in his Commons office, tweeted: “Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege.
“I am extremely grateful to Boris Johnson for giving me the chance to serve this amazing part of our country.
“The warmth and support from people across Northern Ireland has been incredible. Thank you so much.”
'ON MY BIKE'
Ms Leadsom posted on social media: “It has been a real privilege to serve in Government for the last six years, and in BEIS for six months.
“I now look forward to focusing on my constituents and on my 20+ year campaign to see every baby get the best start in life."
Ms Villiers said Mr Johnson told her she needed to go "to make way for someone new", saying in a statement: "What the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister taketh away."
And Mr Cox posted: “I have been truly privileged to have served as Attorney General during the recent turbulent political times.
“I am now leaving the Government at the PM’s request. I shall continue to represent and stand up strongly for the interests of Torridge and West Devon.”
Ms McVey wrote: “I’m very sorry to be relieved of my duties as Housing Minister I wish my successor the very best and every success.
“I’m very grateful to the Prime Minister for having given me the opportunity to serve in his government and he will continue to have my support from the back benches.”
While Mr Skidmore joked he had “got a promotion in the reshuffle to be a better dad”.
Posting a picture of himself with his new baby, he tweeted: “Thanks everyone who I’ve had the chance to work with and the civil service teams that have supported me- you have all been amazing.”
Ms Ghani said: “Huge privilege to have been Transport Minister and we’ve achieved so much in two years.
“Thanks to the great team in the department and now I get to spend more time with family and constituents.”
And her former departmental colleague Mr Freeman wrote: “On my bike. It’s been a huge privilege to shape the new ‘Future Of Transport Strategy’ with Grant Shapps and the brilliant Department for Transport team, and help the PM make this an inspiring One Nation Conservative ‘Government of Renewal’. Sad not to be part of it.”