Thursday 13 February 2020 8:23 pm

Fifth business secretary in a decade after bruising reshuffle

The business community will today start building ties with its fifth secretary of state in a decade, after yesterday’s bruising reshuffle saw Andrea Leadsom one of the first to be sacked. 

Leadsom, who was widely expected to leave Boris Johnson’s Cabinet, is being replaced by former international development secretary Alok Sharma. 

Although she was not universally acclaimed, CBI director general Josh Hardie thanked Leadsom for her “open, collaborative and pragmatic approach”. 

An accountant before he became the MP for Reading West in 2010, Sharma will also be responsible for overseeing the climate change summit COP26. He tweeted: “Looking forward to an exciting year ahead.”

Leadsom was one of a number of women to lose their jobs yesterday, despite Number 10’s commitment to improving gender balance. Environment secretary Theresa Villiers and housing minister Esther McVey were among those to lose their jobs early on in the day, which also saw culture secretary Nicky Morgan leave government. 

All three were replaced by men – respectively George Eustice, Christopher Pincher and Oliver Dowden. 

Some of the more junior Cabinet roles were filled by women: attorney general Geoffrey Cox was replaced by Brexiter Suella Braverman, while Sharma’s vacated position of international development secretary was taken by Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Penny Mordaunt was made paymaster general while Amanda Milling was named minister without portfolio, and a member of the Cabinet. 

But outside of the Treasury shake-up, the biggest upset was Johnson’s sacking of Julian Smith as Northern Ireland secretary. Smith, who was instrumental in getting the Northern Ireland Assembly back on track earlier this year, was praised by politicians of all political stripes including outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and DUP leader Arlene Foster. 

However it is thought his time as chief whip and recent comments about Brexit – suggesting a no deal would be bad for Northern Ireland – had cost him his job, which went to Brandon Lewis. 

One MP told City A.M.: “Deal aside, he wasn’t well regarded as chief whip under [Theresa] May and clashed with Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.”

Another added: “Number 10 has never liked him.”

There was no movement among several of Johnson’s most senior Cabinet ministers, including home secretary Priti Patel, foreign secretary Dominic Raab and chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove. 

Jacob Rees-Mogg, who had been in the spotlight for his comments during the election about the victims of Grenfell, retained his role as leader of the house. 

International trade secretary Liz Truss, who was rumoured to be at risk if her department was folded into one of the bigger beasts, also clung on. 

However party chairman James Cleverly’s promotion to joint minister at the Foreign Office and DiFID is a sign that the merger floated during the general election could be coming further down the line. 

Other promotions of note include Greg Hands, who returns to the Department for International Trade as a minister.