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Politics

Alarming things cabinet ministers have said in the past about their new briefs

Boris Johnson reportedly tried to move on blunder-prone politicians in this week’s cabinet reshuffle. But the new secretaries of state are no strangers to gaffes

A number of familiar faces were fired, demoted or moved sideways in Boris Johnson’s cabinet reshuffle on Wednesday, while others were brought to cabinet for the first time.

But how qualified are the new secretaries of state for their roles? We had a dig around the archives to see what they’d said in the past about their new areas of expertise.

Nadine Dorries

“Left wing snowflakes are killing comedy and dumbing down pantomimes.”

That’s according to Nadine Dorries, announced on Wednesday as the new culture secretary, in a quote dating back to 2017. She will now take on responsibility for the UK’s arts and media landscape.

Dorries, who will oversee the BBC, was suspended by her party while a backbencher in 2012 for choosing to appear on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.

But her success as a novelist qualifies her for the culture job, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said.

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“She has sold thousands and thousands of books. If that isn’t part of culture, media and sport I don’t know what is,” he said.

Nadhim Zahawi

Gavin Williamson was ousted as education secretary in the cabinet reshuffle – after a tenure littered with blunders – and replaced by Nadhim Zahawi, who senior officials credited with a successful jabs rollout as vaccine minister.

But Zahawi, also a former children’s minister, was accused of making misleading claims last year in an attempt to justify the government’s resistance to funding free school meals during lockdown school holidays.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four and Times Radio in October, Zahawi insisted hard-up parents would rather pay for school lunches.

He cited “research” from holiday breakfast and activities clubs that “families didn’t just want the meals, although they valued the meals”.

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The politician added: “They didn’t like the labelling of them being free, they actually prefer to pay a modest amount, £1 or £2.”

The Department for Education later said it did not have the research to back up his claim.

Liz Truss

New foreign secretary Liz Truss is no stranger to embarrassments when it comes to international issues, having found herself become meme fodder after a cringeworthy speech at the Tory party conference in 2014.

“In December, I’ll be in Beijing, opening up new pork markets,” she said before pausing for applause that never came.

She was again ridiculed for her outrage over an alleged lack of British cheese for British people. “We import two-thirds of our cheese. That is a disgrace,” she said in the disastrous speech.

The new foreign secretary – rumoured to refer to herself as “The Truss” – later baffled MPs in the Commons, claiming in 2018 that barking dogs at British prisons were deterring drones.

Truss has taken the viral nature of many of her comments on the chin. But she has caused more serious concern too, including as justice secretary in 2017, when she drew the ire of senior judiciary.

She was criticised for a number of serious blunders in the job which included wrongly announcing reforms meaning adult rape survivors would be able to give pre-recorded evidence, forcing the president of the courts to write to all judges rectifying the mistake.

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Anne-Marie Trevelyan

Promoted to international trade secretary is Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who came under fire last year after leaked texts allegedly showed her sharing racist pictures.

A WhatsApp screenshot, reportedly sent by Trevelyan to Conservative colleagues, shows a picture of a Chinese fortune cookie as a Covid-19 test kit.

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Michael Gove

Michael Gove takes the reins as housing and communities secretary, meaning Robert Jenrick – whose time in the role was marred by allegations of corruption – is out of a job.

Gove is thought to be a central component of the prime minister’s plans for the future. The gaffe-prone new housing secretary’s priorities have previously included sending a bible to every state school in the country and avoiding £5 door charges for Aberdeen night clubs.

One challenge he faces is increasing the social housing stock in the UK to help fix the crisis of homelessness and inadequate housing across the UK.

Gove hit the headlines in 2013 when he was accused of insulting people living in poverty for suggesting families only had themselves to blame for using food banks.

“I appreciate that there are families who face considerable pressures,” he said. “Those pressures are often the result of decisions that they have taken which mean they are not best able to manage their finances.”

Other big cabinet names retained their roles, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who will cut the incomes of the UK’s poorest by £1,040 a year; Health Secretary Sajid Javid, whose poorly worded tweet accused the public of “cower[ing] from” Covid-19; and Home Secretary Priti Patel, whose upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill threatens to criminalise people fleeing danger simply for arriving on UK shores.

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