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May to reshuffle cabinet as Brexit looms

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    Agence France-Presse

London, United Kingdom   /   Mon, January 8, 2018   /   01:41 pm
 May to reshuffle cabinet as Brexit looms Britain's Prime minister Theresa May answers the press as she arrives to attend the first day of a European union summit in Brussels on Dec.14. (AFP/John Thys)

British Prime Minister Theresa May will begin reshuffling her cabinet Monday in a bid to reassert authority after a torrid 2017 in which she lost her working majority and several ministers to scandals.

The long-awaited shake-up arrives ahead of another year of potentially bruising battles over Brexit, as talks with the European Union enter a key new phase amid continued divisions in the Conservative party.

It also comes as the prime minister tries to reset her leadership in the face of a resurgent opposition Labour party, which exceeded expectations in the snap election May called -- and nearly lost -- last summer.

Labour has started the new year attacking her government's handling of the crisis-hit health service and railways.

The reshuffle is not expected to result in any high-profile sackings, with foreign minister and Brexit proponent Boris Johnson, pro-EU finance minister Philip Hammond and Brexit Secretary David Davis all set to keep their jobs.

May has limited political capital for bold moves and cannot afford to upset the pro- and anti-EU balance of her cabinet following the loss of her parliamentary majority in the last election and persistent internal turmoil over Brexit and her leadership.

The reboot is nonetheless predicted to be the biggest overhaul of her team since she took power in July 2016, with reports of up to a quarter of cabinet roles impacted.

Several ministers may receive promotions, while a handful of MPs are anticipated to join the cabinet.

The Daily Telegraph reported that May will name a "cabinet minister for no deal" to be based alongside Davis in the department for exiting the EU.

The new minister will provide regular updates on preparation for leaving the bloc without a trade deal and have "a significant budget", the paper said.

The role was an attempt to show Brussels that London "was serious about leaving the EU without a deal if talks fail", it added.

The need for a reshuffle grew as deputy prime minister Damian Green stepped down last month over a pornography scandal, following the autumn departures of ministers Michael Fallon and Priti Patel, who became embroiled in separate controversies.

May confirmed on Sunday that she would be making ministerial changes, but refused to disclose details.

"Damian Green's departure before Christmas means that some changes do have to be made, and I will be making some changes," she told the BBC. "It will be soon."

Last year's flurry of high-profile resignations triggered repeated calls for a reshuffle, which until now went unheeded.