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Victoria Atkins Appointed Health Secretary As Steve Barclay Becomes New Environment Secretary

Victoria Atkins has been promoted to Secretary of State for Health and Social Care (Alamy)

5 min read

Victoria Atkins is taking over from Steve Barclay as the new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, with Barclay replacing Thérèse Coffey as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in a major cabinet reshuffle.

Atkins has been promoted from her junior minister role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Barclay was previously the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, a role he had held twice under prime ministers Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak.

The move of Atkins to health has been welcomed by Tory MP and chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, Steve Brine.

“Her appointment comes at a critical time for the NHS with the number of patients waiting for treatment at a record high," he said. 

"Preventing ill-health will be key to helping the NHS manage its resources. Prevention is one of this committee’s priorities and I hope it will be high up on the new Secretary of State’s agenda too."

Coffey was previously health secretary during Liz Truss's premiership, but was appointed as environment secretary when Sunak became prime minister in October 2022. In a letter to the prime minister, Coffey said she was proud of the work she had done in government.

"Having been a minister since July 2014, and having served all five Conservative Prime Ministers, I consider it is now the right time to step back from government," she wrote.

In his response, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wrote: "I want to express my gratitude to you for your years of dedicated ministerial service and your friendship to me personally."

Her department faced criticism for not putting in place adequate protections when flooding by storms Babet and Ciaran this autumn devasted parts of the UK and destroyed farmers' crops: Defra admitted the Environment Agency had been ill prepared for "rain from the east".

Tom Parker Bowles, the son of Queen Camilla and a food writer and critic, posted on X on Monday morning: "Please say Coffey has gone. Please. Please." 

In the major cabinet reshuffle, Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary, to be replaced by former foreign secretary James Cleverly. Former prime minister David Cameron has been appointed as the new foreign secretary, in a shock move by No10.

Laura Trott has been announced as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury – the second most important role in the Treasury after the Chancellor – replacing John Glen.

Rachel Maclean has also been sacked from her role as Minister of State for Housing and Planning in a major reshuffle by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

"I’ve been asked to step down from my role as Housing Minister," she wrote on X.

"Disappointed and was looking forward to introducing the Renters Reform Bill to Committee tomorrow and later the Leasehold and Freehold Bill.

"It has been a privilege to hold the position and I wish my successor well."

Maclean was broadly seen as a proponent of increasing housebuilding across the UK, and had been the 15th housing minister appointed since the Conservatives came into power 13 years ago.

A senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome they were unhappy the government had sacked yet another housing minister, and said industry sources had complained to them about how many the Conservatives had gone through in recent years.

“Remember all reshuffles are about patronage, the only thing that matters is who you support in a leadership contest," they said.

"That and nothing else. Nothing to do with ability or views. [Maclean] was a Kemi supporter last time. Out she goes."

Robert Colvile, who was the co-author of the 2019 Conservative manifesto, responding to Maclean's sacking on X: "I repeat: please, no. Rachel is very good, and this area desperately needs continuity."

Harry Scoffin, co-founder of anti-leasehold campaign group Commonhold Now, said that he was glad Michael Gove was still in place as Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communitiee, but said Maclean's sacking would not fill campaigners with "an awful amount of confidence".

“However, Rachel Maclean’s unexpected ouster doesn’t fill housing campaigners and leaseholders with an awful amount of confidence that the Leasehold and Freehold Bill will be delivered this side of the general election," he said.

“Maclean was a rare housing minister in recent times for being in command of her her brief, pro-housebuilding, and sympathetic to consumer interests. She was fired up to deliver transformational changes to our housing market with the Leasehold and Freehold Bill and the Renters Reform Bill.

“We will keep an eye on who her successor ends up being. Will they be an industry stooge; a no-hoper from the backbenchers who will struggle with the detail of two technical and wide-ranging housing Bills; or someone confident in their own abilities who is determined to face up to the vested interests in property to hand rightful control to paying leaseholders of their homes and, ultimately, lives? Renters are crying out for policy continuity, too.”

Shadow Minister for Housing and Planning Matt Pennycook responded that Maclean's sacking suggested the Conservatives were "indifferent" to housing and planning.

"I wish Rachel Maclean well for the future but her sacking perfectly illustrates this Tory government’s indifferent attitude to housing and planning," he said.

"We need certainty and stability to get Britain building again. It's clear that only a Labour government will deliver it."

Nick Gibb, Neil O'Brien, Will Quince, Jesse Norman, George Freeman, and Jeremy Quin have all resigned as ministers across the health, transport, education, science and technology, and Cabinet Office departments.

There will also be change in the Conservative Campaign Headquarters, with Tory MP Richard Holden announced as the new party chair, to replace Greg Hands.

Additional reporting by Tom Scotson

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