Liz Truss’s hopes of uniting her party after a fractious leadership contest were tonight at risk after she conducted a brutal cabinet clearout of supporters of rival Rishi Sunak in her first hours as prime minister.
The new PM constructed a top team of close allies, including Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor and James Cleverly as foreign secretary, with hardline right-winger Suella Braverman – a supporter of withdrawal from the European Court of Human Rights – becoming home secretary and Therese Coffey appointed the UK’s first female deputy prime minister as well as taking the health brief.
Jacob Rees-Mogg was made business secretary after taking part in talks with energy companies on a package of measures to tackle the cost of living crisis, due to be unveiled on Thursday and expected to include a £2,500 price freeze for households costing £90bn, as well as additional help for businesses.
One former minister told The Independent of fears that Ms Truss was creating a “cabinet of cronies”, putting personal loyalty to her over the competence needed at a time of virtually unprecedented crisis.
And former veterans minister Johnny Mercer accused her of favouring friends as he was sacked, alongside prominent cabinet Sunak backers Dominic Raab, Grant Shapps, Steve Barclay and George Eustice.
The appointments meant that for the first time in UK history, none of the four great offices of state is held by a white man, in a move welcomed by Tories as a blow for “meritocracy”.
But the former minister said he was “worried that she is creating a cabinet of cronies, which will cause her the same problems that Boris Johnson had – in the end, people felt they didn’t need to support him”.
The minister added: “A lot of people were hoping she would be more inclusive. There are competent people who should be in the cabinet who won’t be, and we need the most competent people we can get at a time of such massive challenges.”
Shadow cabinet minister Peter Kyle said the decision to consign big hitters from earlier Tory administrations to the backbenches was an indication of deep rifts in Ms Truss’s party.
“The Tory party is now ungovernable and incapable of governing,” he said.
Ms Truss moved to put her stamp on the government within minutes of arriving at No 10 after being appointed the UK’s third female PM by the Queen at Balmoral.
Speaking on the steps of her new residence in a brief break between thunderous downpours, she acknowledged that the country faces tough times ahead, but said: ”We shouldn’t be daunted by the challenges we face.
“As strong as the storm may be, I know the British people are stronger. Together we can ride out the storm, we can rebuild our economy.”
Borrowing a phrase coined by David Cameron in 2012, she said she would use tax cuts and reforms to create an “aspiration nation”, naming the economy, the energy crisis and the NHS as her top three priorities.
She spoke with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to restate the UK’s “steadfast support”.
And she received a call from US president Joe Biden, who reminded the new PM – who has tabled legislation to tear up the Northern Ireland protocol on post-Brexit border arrangements – of the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement.
While a disappointed Mr Mercer confined himself to remarking that Ms Truss was “entitled to reward her supporters”, his wife Felicity revealed he had confronted the PM in her Commons office over her decision to drop him.
In a tweet illustrated by a Muppet under a “Liz for Leader” banner, Ms Cornelius-Mercer said her husband got no response when he asked the new PM: “Who is going to be better at this role than me, which of your mates gets the job? You promised a meritocracy.”
“This system stinks and treats people appallingly,” said the Plymouth MP’s wife. “Best person I know sacked by an imbecile.”
Meanwhile, green groups voiced alarm that Mr Rees-Mogg was being given direct responsibility for energy and climate change.
Friends of the Earth branded the appointment “deeply worrying”, pointing to Mr Rees-Mogg’s recent suggestion that “every last drop” of oil and gas should be extracted from the North Sea.
And Labour climate change spokesperson Ed Miliband accused him of seeking to undermine the science on climate change and making the wrong calls on issues like fracking.
Liberal Democrat cabinet spokesperson Christine Jardine said: “Fewer than 100,000 people voted for Liz Truss to lead our country, yet instead of seeking consensus she’s gone for a cabinet that will please only the right wing. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a climate change denier, being entrusted with protecting the planet during a climate emergency is unfathomable.“
Other appointments included former leadership contenders Penny Mordaunt as leader of the Commons and Kemi Badenoch as international trade secretary.
Ms Truss’s confirmation as the UK’s 56th prime minister and third female holder of the post followed a truculent early-morning farewell speech from Mr Johnson, who wrongly claimed that the rules had been changed to remove him from office.
The outgoing PM promised his “fervent” support for his successor but undermined his own claim to be departing permanently from frontline politics by comparing himself to Roman general Cincinnatus, who was called from his farm to take on dictatorial rule at a time of crisis.