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'Day of the long knives' as new Prime Minister Theresa May shows no mercy to her old colleagues

Theresa May wields the axe on Cameron's 'Notting Hill set' in a ruthless clear-out

By Andrew Grice

Theresa May stamped her authority on the new Government by carrying out a ruthless reshuffle in which she exiled key figures from the Cameron era while promoting her own allies.

Allies of the former Prime Minister, who had seen Mrs May as the "Cameron continuity candidate", were dismayed as his successor wielded the knife.

She was accused of demolishing the "Notting Hill set", the group of modernisers around Mr Cameron when he became Conservative leader in 2005.

Some Tory MPs doubted that her appointment of right-wingers would help Mrs May deliver her pledge to govern from the centre ground and champion working class families.

After sacking George Osborne on taking power on Wednesday, the new Prime Minister dismissed Michael Gove; Nicky Morgan, who backed Mr Gove for the leadership; Oliver Letwin, Mr Cameron's policy chief, and three Osborne allies - Matthew Hancock, Greg Hands and Baroness (Tina) Stowell, who was Leader of the Lords. Lord (Andrew) Feldman, another member of the "Notting Hill set", resigned as Tory chairman and was replaced by Patrick McLoughlin.

Tory sources said Boris Johnson had won his surprise promotion to Foreign Secretary after offering to back Mrs May for the leadership while he was still a candidate in return for her promising to stand aside later.

Twelve senior ministers including Mr Cameron left their posts. The brutal reshuffle was dubbed "the day of the long knives" at Westminster - a reference to the "night of the long knives" when Harold Macmillan sacked seven ministers in 1962.

Mrs May promoted to her Cabinet three former Home Office ministers who worked under her - Karen Bradley, the new Culture Secretary; Damian Green, the Work and Pensions Secretary, and James Brokenshire, the Northern Ireland Secretary.

Another May ally, Justine Greening, won a big promotion to an expanded Department for Education, which will take over responsibility for universities, further education and skills.

The Whitehall shake-up faced criticism as Mrs May was accused of downgrading the importance of climate change by abolishing the Department for Energy and Climate Change.

Responsibility for energy goes to a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, headed by Greg Clark.

Mrs May spared the sacked ministers the "walk of shame" past TV crews by meeting them in her Commons office.

Other departures included John Whittingdale, the Culture Secretary; Mark Harper, the chief whip, and Theresa Villiers, who lost her job as Northern Ireland Secretary. Surprisingly, Jeremy Hunt kept his job as Health Secretary despite his bitter dispute with the junior doctors over their new contract.

The number of women in the Cabinet rose from seven to eight. The other women promoted to Cabinet rank were Leave campaigners Andrea Leadsom, who became Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary, and Priti Patel, the new International Development Secretary. The average age of Cabinet members - 52 - is a year older than Mr Cameron's team, after the recall of Eurosceptics David Davis, the Minister for Brexit, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary.

Barack Obama rang Mrs May to congratulate her on becoming Prime Minister in a 15-minute call described as "warm" by Downing Street. The two leaders agreed to maintain the much-vaunted "special relationship" but did not discuss the prospects of a US trade deal.

Mrs May told the US President she wanted "constructive and positive talks" with the 27 EU countries, a point she emphasised in a phone call to Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President.

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