UK's Johnson shakes up Cabinet, eyeing pandemic recovery

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook up his Cabinet on Wednesday, attempting to move on from a series of political missteps and get his agenda of “levelling up” economic opportunities across the U.K. after the pandemic back on track.

Johnson’s office said the prime minister would appoint “a strong and united team to build back better from the pandemic.”

One of the biggest changes was firing Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. Johnson’s office said Raab will now be the justice secretary and deputy prime minister, a demotion from his earlier role heading one of the government’s biggest departments.

Raab had been a key member of the government, who stood in for Johnson when the prime minister was hospitalized with coronavirus last year. But he faced strong criticism for delaying his return from a holiday in Greece as the Taliban took over Afghanistan last month.

The government also announced that Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Education Secretary Gavin Williamson had left their posts.

Williamson tweeted that it had been “a privilege to serve” in the education job and “I look forward to continuing to support the prime minster and the government.” He had been under fire for his performance during the pandemic, which has seen long periods of school closures, sudden policy shifts and the cancelation of major exams to get into university for two years in a row.

Last week Williamson also said he had made a “genuine mistake” by mixing up two Black athletes, soccer star Marcus Rashford and rugby player Maro Itoje, who both campaign for more government help for poor children.

Johnson carried out a sweeping government shuffle after his December 2019 election victory, sidelining lawmakers considered insufficiently loyal or lukewarm in their support for Britain’s departure from the European Union. That left him with a strongly pro-Brexit top team, but critics say it shut many ambitious and competent lawmakers out of government.

Opponents of Johnson’s Conservative government say its lack of depth has shown as the U.K. confronted the aftershocks of its departure from the EU along with the public health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic and its economic blows.

Britain has recorded more than 134,000 COVID-19 deaths, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.