LONDON – Longtime trade minister Greg Hands has been tapped as Sage Sunak’s chief lieutenant as the U.K. prime minister embarks on a sweeping overhaul of government machinery.
Hands, who has held a number of ministerial posts since becoming a Tory MP in 2010, will serve as Conservative Party chairman, stepping into the role left vacant by the sacking of Nadeem Zahavi amid controversy over his tax affairs.
The new Tory chairman, who is expected to sideline the Conservative grassroots and prepare for the party’s election, has a formidable task ahead of him. The Conservatives are trailing the opposition Labor Party in the polls and face a tough set of local elections in May. The party has cycled through three leaders in the past year alone.
The hand-up comes as Sunak reshuffles Whitehall to better meet the government’s list of pre-election priorities. Most notably, he removed the separate department for international trade and created a new science, innovation and technology department under the previous culture secretary, Michelle Donelan.
In a statement, Downing Street said the reshuffle “will ensure the whole of government is ready for the British people.”
The Department for International Trade (DIT) is being dismantled at a time when Britain is devoting less energy to new, post-Brexit trade deals and focusing more on capitalizing on its existing deals and trying to come up with a broader deal. Business investment strategy. Tory rising star Kemi Badenoch, who previously headed the DIT, will be the new business and trade secretary.
A separate ministry tasked with ensuring Britain’s energy security has also been announced. Grant Shapps, previously business secretary, has been made secretary of state for energy security and net zero, and the change comes as UK consumers struggle with sky-high energy costs in the wake of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.
Sunak, who spent time in Silicon Valley before becoming an MP, is also overhauling Britain’s technology policy tools. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport loses the digital brief to a new ministry focused on science, innovation and technology. It will be tasked with “turning scientific and technological innovations into practical, applicable solutions to the challenges we face,” the government said. Lucy Fraser, formerly Minister for Leveling, will take over as Culture Secretary in a scaled-back department.
The technological overhaul comes at a crucial time, with the government’s flagship online security bill making its way through the UK parliament and concerns over delays in its long-awaited semiconductor strategy.
Labor responded with disillusionment with the restructuring of the civil service. A senior Labor figure told Politico’s London Playbook that “changing such a big machinery of government so close to an election is just plain silly. It takes a lot of energy in Whitehall to sort these things out and they basically won’t have time to do anything real before the election … but if they have any work to do Doesn’t get money, ideas or enough votes — so why? No.”