17 Sep

'Boris Johnson switches trade minister weeks before FTA with Australia' Hans Van Leeuwen, The AFR

London | British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has used a cabinet reshuffle to promote his Trade Secretary Liz Truss, just weeks away from the conclusion of a full free-trade agreement with Australia.

Ms Truss, who most recently spoke to her Australian counterpart Dan Tehan about the FTA over the weekend, was promoted to Foreign Secretary, with Mr Johnson handing the trade post to former business minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan.

Mr Tehan had developed a close relationship with Ms Truss as they held weekly video meetings throughout April and May, before Mr Johnson and Prime Minister Scott Morrison signed an in-principle FTA in London in June.

The two trade ministers had more recently been intensively negotiating the final text of the deal, which is due to be signed within weeks – probably in October.

The FTA is unlikely to be much delayed by the change in personnel: the deal will be at the top of Ms Trevelyan’s in-tray, along with the seemingly deadlocked FTA talks with New Zealand.

Ms Truss has other links with Australia: she recruited former prime minister Tony Abbott as an unpaid adviser on trade policy, prompting him to visit Britain at least twice this year.

His position on the British government’s Board of Trade is unlikely to be affected by the move.

She also has a strong relationship with Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, George Brandis. Last year the pair teamed up to shoot a slickly produced promotional video about the FTA.

Her relations with Mr Tehan went through the media wringer in early April, though, when she vowed to sit the “inexperienced” new trade minister in “an uncomfortable chair” to get an FTA out of him. In public, Mr Tehan laughed it off – and it did not seem to derail the process.

Ms Truss replaces former foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who was demoted to Justice Secretary after being seen to have mishandled his part in the Afghanistan crisis in August.

Apart from Mr Raab, most of Mr Johnson’s top ministers – Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Home Secretary Priti Patel, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and Health Secretary Sajid Javid – kept their jobs.

Mr Johnson’s minister without portfolio, Michael Gove – who worked side by side with him on the 2016 Brexit referendum before torpedoing his first bid to take over the Conservative Party – was appointed as Communities, Local Government and Housing Secretary.It is a seemingly junior cabinet post, but Mr Gove will likely use it to help mastermind Mr Johnson’s attempt to retain marginal seats prised from Labour’s former “red wall” at the next election, due by May 2024.

The ministerial revamp represents Mr Johnson’s first major bout of firing and hiring since winning the December 2019 election.

Hans van Leeuwen covers British and European politics, economics and business from London. He has worked as a reporter, editor and policy adviser in Sydney, Canberra, Hanoi and London. Connect with Hans on Twitter. Email Hans at hans.vanleeuwen@afr.com

 

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