Former British Prime Minister David Cameron made a shock return to high office on Monday, becoming foreign secretary in a major shakeup of the Conservative government that also saw the firing of divisive Home Secretary Suella Braverman.
Cameron, who led the government between 2010 and 2016, was appointed by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in a Cabinet shuffle in which he sacked Braverman, a divisive figure who drew anger for accusing police of being too lenient with pro-Palestinian protesters.
She was replaced by James Cleverly, who had been foreign secretary.
Cameron’s appointment came as a surprise to seasoned politics-watchers. It’s rare for a non-lawmaker to take a senior government post, and it has been decades since a former prime minister held a Cabinet job.
The government said Cameron will be appointed to Parliament’s unelected upper chamber, the House of Lords. The last foreign secretary to serve in the Lords, rather than the elected House of Commons, was Peter Carrington, who was part of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s government in the 1980s.
It marks the return to government of a leader brought down by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Cameron called the 2016 EU membership referendum, confident the country would vote to stay in the bloc. He resigned the day after voters opted to leave.
Sunak was a strong backer of the winning “leave” side in the referendum.
Braverman’s exit was less surprising. Sunak had been under growing pressure to fire Braverman — a hard-liner popular with the authoritarian wing of the governing Conservative Party — from one of the most senior jobs in government, responsible for handling immigration and policing.
In a highly unusual attack on the police last week, Braverman said London’s police force was ignoring lawbreaking by “pro-Palestinian mobs.” She described demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza as “hate marchers.”
On Saturday, far-right protesters scuffled with police and tried to confront a large pro-Palestinian march by hundreds of thousands through the streets of London. Critics accused Braverman of helping to inflame tensions.
Last week Braverman wrote an article for the Times of London in which she said police “play favorites when it comes to protesters” and acted more leniently toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators and Black Lives Matter supporters than to right-wing protesters or soccer hooligans.
The article was not approved in advance by the prime minister’s office, as would usually be the case.
Braverman said Monday “it has been the greatest privilege of my life to serve as home secretary,” adding that she would “have more to say in due course.”
Braverman, a 43-year-old lawyer, has become a leader of the party’s populist wing by advocating ever-tougher curbs on migration and a war on human rights protections, liberal social values and what she has called the “tofu-eating wokerati.”
Last month she called migration a “hurricane” that would bring “millions more immigrants to these shores, uncontrolled and unmanageable.”
As home secretary Braverman championed the government’s stalled plan to send asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain in boats on a one-way trip to Rwanda. A U.K. Supreme Court ruling on whether the policy is legal is due on Wednesday.
Critics say Braverman has been building her profile to position herself for a party leadership contest that could come if the Conservatives lose power in an election expected next year. Opinion polls for months have put the party 15 to 20 points behind the opposition Labour Party.