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Clegg wields knife in reshuffle

The Cabinet minister responsible for leading the fight against Scottish independence has been sacked and a minister widely seen as a conspiracy theorist has been given a key role at the Home Office in a dramatic coalition reshuffle.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore was the biggest casualty as Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg wielded the knife on his Liberal Democrat ministerial team.

But the biggest shock was the appointment of his Lib Dem colleague Norman Baker - who claimed that government scientist David Kelly was murdered and that the security services staged a cover-up - to Minister of State at the Home Office.

David Cameron has also re-shuffled his team of Conservative junior and middle-ranking ministers - with promotions for a number of women.

However the most eye-catching changes were among the Lib Dems where Mr Moore - the only Cabinet casualty - has been replaced by the party's chief whip Alistair Carmichael.

With just a year to go before the crucial referendum on independence north of the border, the move is believed to reflect Mr Clegg's desire for a more attacking approach against Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond.

Mr Moore told the BBC he was "disappointed" to be leaving office but "very pleased at what I have been able to achieve in the last couple of years".

But the greatest surprise came with Mr Baker's move from the Department for Transport to the Home Office.

Mr Baker quit the Lib Dem frontbench in 2006 in order to research a book on the death of Dr Kelly, who was identified as the source of a BBC story claiming the Labour government's notorious Iraq dossier had been "sexed up".

Although an official inquiry concluded Dr Kelly had committed suicide, Mr Baker argued that he was murdered by an Iraqi hit squad and the killing had then been covered up by the security services.

Mr Baker has also raised questions over the death of the Labour former foreign secretary Robin Cook who was opposed to the Iraq War.

Downing Street refused to say whether there had been any discussion of Mr Baker's views or whether Home Secretary Theresa May had been consulted about the appointment.

"He is an experienced minister," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said. "There is consultation between both parties in the coalition.

"What the Prime Minister has been saying to all ministers is the importance of following through on the Government's priorities."

He replaces Jeremy Browne, who was another high-profile casualty of Mr Clegg's re-shuffle. Although regarded as being highly capable, there was speculation that he had paid the price for being seen to be too close to the Tories.

Exchanging letters with Mr Browne, Mr Clegg said it was "always very difficult to move colleagues out of government" but said that he wanted to give others the chance of ministerial office.

In his response, Mr Browne insisted he remained "supportive of the Government".

He added: "I hope the Government will continue to strive to be reforming and innovative and avoid the danger of lapsing into transactional trade-offs and deferred decision making."

Meanwhile, Mr Cameron left the Conservative members of the Cabinet unchanged - but handed promotions to women MPs including Esther McVey and Nicky Morgan.

Ms McVey has been pushed up the ranks at the Department for Work and Pensions to become employment minister, while Ms Morgan goes from assistant whip to Economic Secretary to the Treasury.

Anna Soubry has been moved sideways from her junior ministerial role in the Department of Health to become the first female MP to be a minister at the Ministry of Defence.

Allies of Chancellor George Osborne have fared well, with Sajid Javid made Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Matthew Hancock becoming Skills and Enterprise minister, and Greg Hands installed as Tory Deputy Chief Whip.

Greg Clark has been moved from the Treasury to take on responsibilities for cities and constitutional reform at the Cabinet Office, and Andrew Robathan made Northern Ireland minister replacing Mike Penning - who takes on duties at the Department for Work and Pensions.

Hugh Robertson, who has held the sports brief for the Tories since 2005 and earned praise for his work on the Olympics, is rewarded by being made minister at the Foreign Office.

George Eustice - Mr Cameron's former press secretary and a prominent EU rebel - has been appointed environment minister.

Robert Goodwill moves from the whips' office to the Department for Transport and Jane Ellison has been promoted from the backbenches to become a junior minister in the Department of Health.

Shailesh Vara, who was sacked as a Government whip in last year's re-shuffle, returns to office as a minister in the Ministry of Justice.

Mr Cameron's parliamentary aide, Sam Gyimah, has been moved to the whips office along with Karen Bradley.

MPs Amber Rudd, Claire Perry, Gavin Barwell and John Penrose have been appointed as assistant whips.

Tory ministers who lost their jobs included Mark Hoban, Mark Prisk, Richard Benyon, and Alistair Burt.

On the Lib Dem side, David Heath was sacked from his post at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, with Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson appointed to a junior ministerial job in the department.

Stephen Williams, the Lib Dems' former backbench Treasury spokesman, has been given a post in the Department of Communities and Local Government.

In other moves, Desmond Swayne becomes a senior Tory whip while Gavin Williamson is Mr Cameron's new parliamentary aide.

For the Conservatives, Kris Hopkins and Baroness Stowell join the ministerial team at Communities and Local Government.

For the Lib Dems, Baroness Kramer is made Transport Minister while Baroness Jolly becomes a whip in the Lords.

Appearing on ITV's The Agenda, Mr Cameron said the re-shuffle had been an opportunity to bring forward some fresh talent.

"What you do is refresh the team and I've got a talented bunch of MPs and it's right some of them should be serving in the Government," he said.

"There was a mixture of people from all sorts of backgrounds and walks of life. The main thing is are they qualified to do the job and I think they will prove that."


From Belfast Telegraph