Theresa May has said she intends to remain as prime minister for “as long as people want me”, as she confirmed she was about to conduct a government reshuffle.
Justine Greening, the education secretary, is tipped to be the most prominent casualty in the shake-up, which is expected to start on Monday.
A government reshuffle has been pending since Damian Green was effectively sacked as first secretary of state and Cabinet Office minister before Christmas for not telling the truth about pornography being found on his office computer during a police raid in 2008.
However, May has decided not to do only the minimum required to replace a departing minister, as she did after Sir Michael Fallon and Priti Patel quit the cabinet in the autumn, but to embark on a full-scale reshuffle intended to refresh the government with new talent.
Speaking on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, May said she would be “making some changes” and that it would happen soon.
At one point last year there was speculation that May could move Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, into a beefed-up business department with responsibility for Brexit planning, but that idea seems to have been dropped in response to opposition from Johnson.
It is thought that all four of May’s most senior ministers – Johnson, Philip Hammond, the chancellor, Amber Rudd, the home secretary, and David Davis, the Brexit secretary – will remain in post.
Some cabinet ministers are tipped for the chop, with Greening the top of the list, according to insiders. She was appointed when May became prime minister in July 2016 but she has never shared the prime minister’s enthusiasm for grammar schools, and those around May claim she is too amenable to the teaching unions and not sufficiently committed to the free schools agenda.
In a clear hint that Greening is out of favour, Nick Timothy, May’s joint chief of staff until the general election and her closest policy adviser over the last decade, used his column in the Sun last month to deride Greening’s record, saying her social mobility action plan was “full of jargon but short on meaningful policies” and that “it would have been better left unpublished”.
Sir Patrick McLoughlin, the Conservative party chairman who attends cabinet in his capacity as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, is also widely expected to be replaced. The Tory election machine performed poorly in the general election, and many in the party believe it needs more dynamic leadership before spring elections where Labour is expected to perform well.
Greg Clark, the business secretary, and Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the House of Commons, are thought to be vulnerable. Until recently there was speculation that Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, might be replaced too, but his position has been shored up by the fact that the Labour peer Andrew Adonis has publicly called for his resignation, and now there is even speculation that Grayling might replace Green.
May needs someone to replace Green to head the Cabinet Office and play a coordinating role chairing numerous cabinet committees. However, it is unclear whether that person will also inherit Green’s job as first secretary of state (de facto deputy prime minister), because that is effectively a courtesy title and prime ministers often do without one.
Jeremy Hunt, the health secretary, has also been tipped for Green’s former role, although the NHS winter crisis makes moving him problematic. According to one report, May’s aides have discussed the possibility of appointing Hunt to the Cabinet Office post on the understanding that he does not start there until he has seen the NHS through the winter.
Anne Milton, a former nurse who is currently skills minister, is seen as a possible replacement for Hunt as health secretary if he does move.
Dominic Raab, the justice minister and a leading Vote Leave campaigner, is expected to receive a promotion into the cabinet. Brandon Lewis, who attends cabinet in his capacity as immigration minister, is also seen as being near the top of the list for a promotion and some Tories want him to replace McLoughlin as party chairman.
In her Marr interview, May was asked whether she intended to fight the next election as party leader. “I’m not a quitter. I’m in this for the long term,” she said. “I’ve said that [I want to fight the next election] before. I’ve said I want to fight that.”
But she added: “Obviously, I serve as long as people want me to serve.”