Move shows British PM’s intention to bridge gaps in divided Conservative Party
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In a move that indicates British Prime Minister Liz Truss’s intent to bridge the divides in the Conservative Party, she has given a government role to Greg Hands, who backed her rival Rishi Sunak in the Tory leadership race.
As Ms Truss prepares to make a plea for unity to colleagues returning to Westminster, this appointment will be widely regarded as a peace offering to those who have accused her of surrounding herself with allies.
After a chaotic first month of her premiership, Ms Truss faces pressure from MPs to clarify her economic policies, such as whether benefits will be cut in real terms to pay for a swathe of tax cuts.
Sajid Javid, a former cabinet minister and Truss backer, said on Monday that benefits should rise in line with inflation and that Chancellor of the Exchequer Kwasi Kwarteng should set out a much-anticipated financial plan as soon as possible.
Seasoned minister Mr Hands replaces Conor Burns, who was sacked from his post in the Department for International Trade on Friday after a misconduct complaint.
Mr Burns has vowed to clear his name and said he would “fully co-operate” with a Tory investigation into claims of inappropriate behaviour.
Mr Hands’s appointment was welcomed by fellow Sunak supporter Grant Shapps, who was rumoured to be monitoring party unrest behind the scenes.
“No one is more experienced and knowledgeable than Greg Hands on trade,” he tweeted.
“A welcome addition back to @trussliz government.”
“Greg was one of Rishi’s most high-profile backers,” a government source said.
“This is a very clear signal from the PM that she wants to unify the party and bring everyone back together.
“Greg has been a vocal supporter of the PM’s economic plan. He’s competent and well-liked across the party.”
Mr Hands has extensive experience in the trade department, having held the minister of state post twice before Sunday’s appointment.
He most recently served in the department for business, energy and industrial strategy, and has also been chief secretary to the Treasury.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss – in pictures
Liz Truss makes a speech outside 10 Downing Street, London, after meeting Queen Elizabeth II and accepting her invitation to become prime minister and form a new government. PA
Ms Truss is in line for a new test as Parliament returns for the first sustained period since the death of Queen Elizabeth II last month.
She had been in office for just two days when the announcement from Buckingham Palace brought a political pause until after the state funeral, with MPs only briefly returning to the Commons three weeks ago before rising again for the conference recess.
Ms Truss must now win over colleagues unnerved by the impact of the mini-budget that was squeezed in before the break, and the humiliating U-turn on tax that followed.
It is understood she will urge MPs to unite when they return to Westminster this week.
Mr Hands said it was “an honour and a great privilege” to be part of the government.
“Thanks Prime Minister Liz Truss for the confidence — and looking forward to being back at @tradegovuk,” he wrote on Twitter.
Cabinet ministers have called on the party to come together or risk sacrificing the keys to No 10 to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
Tension was still running high before the appointment on Sunday, as a senior Tory MP warned the mood in the party was “febrile”, with many backbenchers, and members of the government, “very concerned at where we are in the polls”.
Ms Truss is likely to face more pressure to raise benefits in line with inflation, and on other dividing issues, after Conservative critics forced her mid-conference retreat on slashing income tax for the highest earners.
UK government’s new Cabinet appointments – in pictures
Liz Truss and her new team congregate round the cabinet table. AP
Nadhim Zahawi, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, sought to quell disquiet in Tory ranks on Sunday as he warned “delay is our biggest enemy”.
Mr Zahawi said colleagues must “focus” on delivering for the country, as any “dither” will “end in defeat” for the party.
A Downing Street source said the “cold, hard reality” is that the Tories must “get behind Liz” or wind up with a “monstrous coalition of Labour and the SNP”.
Updated: October 10, 2022, 1:26 PM