British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made some eyebrow-raising changes to his Cabinet on Monday, installing former U.K. leader David Cameron as the new foreign minister and firing his hard-right interior minister amidst a furious public row over comments she made about pro-Palestine demonstrations in London.
Cameron, who served as prime minister from 2010 until his resignation in 2016 after he lost the Brexit referendum which he called, was confirmed as the new foreign secretary. He’ll replace James Cleverly, who has been moved to replace interior minister Suella Braverman after her second firing from the same job in just over a year.
The shock move to bring back the former prime minister comes just a month after Sunak’s latest relaunch at the Conservative’s annual conference in which he tried to distance himself from previous Tory leaders—like Cameron—and shifted the party to the right. After yet more disastrous polling, he is apparently lurching back towards the center ground.
Braverman, the daughter of Indian immigrants to Britain, has been a controversial figure in the U.K. for her hardline rhetoric against illegal immigration and progressive policies. She was first made home secretary in September 2022 in Liz Truss’ mind-blowingly brief administration, but managed to end up being forced out of office even faster than her boss. Braverman stepped down from her role on Oct. 19, 2022 after breaching the Ministerial Code by sending an official document on a personal email address—six days before Truss resigned as her calamitous government unraveled altogether.
Despite the security breach, Braverman was then reappointed to her old ministerial position by Truss’ successor, Sunak. She continued to face criticism for her extreme rhetoric—including for a tweet earlier this month in which she described homelessness as a “lifestyle choice”—but the complaints came to a head over an article she wrote in The Times last week about protests around Isreal’s war against Hamas in Gaza.
In the op-ed, Braverman accused London police of being too lenient on “hate marchers” and “pro-Palestinian mobs” when compared with the “stern response” she said was rightly meted out to “nationalist protesters who engage in aggression.” The article also claimed there was a “perception that senior officers play [favorites] when it comes to protesters.” A spokesperson for Sunak later said the U.K. leader had not signed off on the piece, but on Friday insisted he nevertheless had “full confidence” in her.
That confidence apparently evaporated over the weekend.
At the same time, Sunak is apparently confident that Cameron is the man to take charge of Britain’s foreign policy agenda. Cameron’s premiership fell apart owing to a foreign policy issue, in that he failed to convince the U.K. to vote to remain within the European Union (that failure has had a disastrous domestic economic impact too).
During his time as prime minister, Cameron succeeded in 2011 in getting the U.K. to join an international military intervention in Libya which played a major role in the downfall of Muammar Gaddafi. A British foreign affairs committee would later release a scathing report on Cameron’s handling of the action, accusing him of failing to plan for a post-Gaddafi Libya—a country which has remained in turmoil ever since the intervention.
Cameron also dramatically lost a key parliamentary vote in 2013 in which he had wanted to take military action against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. His failure was reported to be the first time a British prime minister had lost a vote on proposed military action since 1782.
Cameron stepped down as a member of parliament two months after resigning as prime minister in 2016. That means that the only way he can return to a Cabinet position is by being appointed to the House of Lords—a move which the U.K. government confirmed on Monday. As such Britain, a purported democracy, now has a prime minister in office who was not voted in by the electorate (Sunak was chosen instead by Tory lawmakers in the wake of Truss’ shambolic downfall), and another of its Great Offices of State is filled by someone who isn’t even an elected member of parliament.
Cameron is now just the second post-war British prime minister to serve in a successor’s government after Conservative Alec Douglas-Home joined Ted Heath’s government as foreign secretary in the 1970s. Rumblings of a Cameron comeback to political life had been around in Westminster for years, with a friend of his telling The Sun in 2018 that Cameron had been “bored shitless” since leaving Downing Street. The report at the time said Cameron had his eye on one day becoming foreign secretary.
In a statement after his appointment, Cameron said he had “gladly accepted” the role, but acknowledged he would have his work cut out for him. “We are facing a daunting set of international challenges, including the war in Ukraine and the crisis in the Middle East,” Cameron wrote on X. “At this time of profound global change, it has rarely been more important for this country to stand by our allies, strengthen our partnerships and make sure our voice is heard.”
He added that while he’d “disagreed with some individual decisions” made by Sunak, he claimed his successor was a “strong and capable Prime Minister, who is showing exemplary leadership at a difficult time.”
“I want to help him to deliver the security and prosperity our country needs and be part of the strongest possible team that serves the United Kingdom and that can be presented to the country when the General Election is held,” Cameron wrote.
Exactly how much Cameron’s appointment will change the Tories’ popularity remains unclear, but they desperately need a change in fortune if they are going to cling onto power at the next election, which will come no later than January 2025. A poll published over the weekend showed the opposition Labour Party on course to win a staggering victory even larger than Tony Blair’s 1997 win which began a 13-year period of Conservative electoral failure—a ruinous run which ended with the election of Cameron.