UK’s new finance minister Rishi Sunak was by Boris Johnson’s side as the Prime Minister chaired his first meeting at 10 Downing Street in London on Friday after a major reshuffle that has thrown up the most Indian-looking Cabinet in Britain’s history.
Priti Patel, who held on to her job as Home Secretary, had made history as the senior-most Indian-origin Cabinet minister to be appointed by Johnson in July last year. That tally has now changed with not one but two of the senior-most posts in the Cabinet occupied by Indian-origin politicians.
Besides the 39-year-old Sunak occupying the second-highest political office and Gujarati-origin Patel in charge of the Home Office, India-born Alok Sharma takes charge as business minister and Goan-origin Suella Braverman becomes the government’s lawyer in chief as the new Attorney General.
“Great to speak to HM Treasury [UK Treasury Department] this morning about our shared mission to unite and level up the country. Now down to work,” said Sunak, just before attending his maiden Cabinet meeting as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Sunak, the son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy, will not only be Johnson’s next-door neighbour at No. 11 Downing Street but also be seen by his side as a regular double-act as the UK Prime Minister brought the economic advisers usually split across No. 10 and 11 Downing under the prime ministerial purview.
In what has been dubbed a “power grab” by some experts, this was the main reason behind Sunak’s predecessor Pakistan-origin Sajid Javid the first British Asian to hold the post announcing his shock resignation as Chancellor.
“My predecessor and good friend Saj did a fantastic job in his time at the Treasury. He was a pleasure to work with and I hope to be able to build on his great work going forward,” said Sunak, who was until recently Javid’s junior in the Treasury Department as Chief Secretary.
His appointment has been widely welcomed, with the Pound Sterling rallying to a two-month high following the announcement.
“He’s someone who understands the financial and professional services sector, and has a real grasp of the issues we’re facing. His experience will help him retain the good relations and trust which the sector has enjoyed with HM Treasury,” said Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chair of the City of London Corporation in charge of the financial hub of the UK capital.
Opening Friday’s Cabinet meeting, Johnson congratulated those present on “achieving or retaining” their Cabinet jobs and called on his new team to get on with the “basic work” of improving lives and spreading opportunity.
“We have to repay the trust of people who voted for us in huge numbers in December and who look forward to us delivering,” said Johnson, in reference to his overwhelming win in the 2019 General Election.
It remains unconfirmed whether the March 11 date for the Budget will be met after the unexpected exit of Javid, who left with a parting shot in his resignation letter against Johnson’s controversial aide Dominic Cummings.
“I believe it is important as leaders to have trusted teams that reflect the character and integrity that you would wish to be associated with,” he said, in reference to a demand linked with Cummings for him to sack all his special advisers in exchange for holding on to his job as Chancellor.
The shake-up in government this week is being widely seen as Johnson’s decisive move to surround himself with ministers who will follow his brief.
Suella Braverman, a staunch Brexiteer who has been critical of judges’ decisions on legislation related to the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU), has been brought in as Attorney General to initiate judicial reforms that the UK Prime Minister is keen to put in place.
Braverman, born Suella Fernandes, is only the second female to occupy the important office and is on record as being critical of the judiciary exercising too much power over politics. The Cambridge University graduate, who has practised as a barrister in the English courts for many years, is expected to trigger a new balance between the legislative and judiciary.
Meanwhile, Sharma will be playing an active role as Secretary for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy as well as his additional role as President of the COP26 United Nations climate conference in Scotland later this year.