LONDON: British Prime Minister Theresa May completed a major overhaul of the government on Thursday, promoting leading Brexit campaigners and stunning observers by picking gaffe-prone Boris Johnson as her top diplomat.
After six years as interior minister under David Cameron, May took office on Wednesday signalling her intention to start with a clean slate — before ruthlessly ejecting some of her former colleagues.
Finance minister George Osborne was replaced by foreign minister Philip Hammond, while two eurosceptics were brought in to take control of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
EU leaders have lined up to congratulate May, whose appointment brings some stability three tumultuous weeks after the June 23 referendum, but urged her to move quickly in implementing the vote to leave.
The result has sparked turmoil on financial markets and sent shockwaves throughout British and European politics, including forcing Cameron to step down.
At its first meeting since the referendum, the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee decided to keep interest rates unchanged at 0.50 per cent, although it signalled a possible cut in August.
The British pound briefly jumped above $1.34, while London’s FTSE 100 index slid, reflecting some disappointment at the bank’s decision to hold off on an anticipated rate cut.
In a bid to reassure markets, May appointed a safe pair of hands as finance minister. Hammond was due to meet Bank of England governor Mark Carney, as well as visiting US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew.
But she sprung a surprise by appointing Johnson, the former mayor of London who had appeared consigned to the political wilderness after backing out of the Conservative leadership contest.
He is well-known for using his sharp wit and his newspaper columns to savage others, once describing White House hopeful Hillary Clinton as a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital”.
During the referendum campaign, he compared the EU’s ambitions for closer integration to Hitler’s plans to rule the continent.