Former UK leader David Cameron sensationally returned to the British government as foreign secretary on Monday, as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak shook up his top team ahead of a general election expected next year.
Sunak sacked right-wing firebrand Suella Braverman as interior minister, after critics accused her of heightening tensions during weeks of contentious pro-Palestinian demonstrations and counter-protests in Britain.
He replaced her with James Cleverly, who had been foreign secretary, before announcing Cameron as Cleverly’s surprise replacement.
Cameron, 57, quit as prime minister in 2016 after losing the Brexit referendum. He stood down as an MP the same year.
He became mired in scandal in 2021, after lobbying the UK government for finance group Greensill Capital, which later collapsed and the episode was seen as badly tarnishing his reputation.
Cameron will be made a life peer in the House of Lords, Britain’s upper chamber of parliament, Downing Street announced, meaning that he can sit in government.
The former leader said he “gladly accepted” the role as Britain faced “a daunting set of international challenges”.
“While I have been out of front-line politics for the last seven years, I hope that my experience — as Conservative leader for 11 years and prime minister for six — will assist me in helping the prime minister to meet these vital challenges,” Cameron added.
Following her dismissal, Braverman said “it has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as home secretary”.
“I will have more to say in due course,” she added.
The changes are part of Sunak’s first major reshuffle of his top ministers since becoming the country’s leader in October last year.
The Conservatives, in power for nearly 14 years, said the changes “strengthen his team in government to deliver long-term decisions for a brighter future”.
Set to be announced throughout the day, they are also expected to reward loyalists and younger emerging MPs, as the party struggles for popularity.
Cameron’s unexpected return surprised even those who comment daily on British politics, and was viewed as having been made with the next general election firmly in mind.
The Tories have trailed the main Labour opposition by double-digit margins throughout Sunak’s time in power, and are widely tipped to lose the contest due next year.
Although he has a high profile and contacts around the world, Cameron’s appointment may not prove a vote winner.
Polling in September showed 45 percent of UK adults felt unfavourably towards him, while only around a quarter held a favourable view.
Tim Bale, politics professor at London’s Queen Mary University, said Sunak was likely drawn to Cameron’s “clout on the international stage” and hoped to appeal to increasingly dissatisfied centrist and centre-right voters.
“I’m very sceptical that it’ll make much difference on that or any other score,” he noted. “It looks desperate — because that is what it is!”
Braverman had stoked controversy throughout her tenure, taking a hardline stance on immigration in particular and regularly wading into so-called culture wars issues which are seen as dividing the electorate.
But her position became increasingly untenable after she last week wrote an explosive newspaper article, without Sunak’s approval, accusing police of bias towards left-wing causes.
The article was blamed for stoking tensions ahead of a weekend of protests calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, which coincided with Armistice Day events, and prompted calls for her to be sacked.
Critics said her comments had encouraged far-right protesters to hold counter demos on the sidelines of the main march on Saturday, which resulted in dozens of arrests.
Downing Street launched an investigation into how the article was published without its consent, as required by the ministerial code.
Braverman’s comments, seen as red meat to the right wing of the governing Conservative party, were also viewed as an attempt to position herself as a future leader of the Tories.
They came after she described the rallies calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as “hate marches”, days after claiming some people were homeless as a “lifestyle choice”.
The right-winger has attacked her critics as liberal “tofu-eating wokerati” while saying shortly after she was appointed that sending asylum seekers to Rwanda was her “dream” and “obsession”.