Euroskeptic named new British foreign secretary

Britain's new Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond arrives at 10 Downing Street in central London, July 15, 2015. (REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett)

LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron named arch-euroskeptic Philip Hammond as his new foreign secretary Tuesday as he unveiled a major Cabinet reshuffle before next year's general election.

Former Defense Secretary Hammond, whose appointment was confirmed on Cameron's Twitter feed, supports Britain leaving the European Union in a referendum in 2017 unless significant powers are returned to London.

Tuesday's reshuffle is the biggest since Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government took power in 2010 and marks a bid to broaden his party's appeal ahead of the election.

He has promised a referendum on Britain leaving the EU in three years' time if he remains prime minister beyond 2015.

Newspapers billed the reshuffle as a cull of the "pale, male and stale" which would open the door for a new wave of women to get ministerial jobs.

Cameron said Hague, who was leader of the center-right Tories between 1997 and 2001, had been "one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation".

He was a leading voice calling for the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar Assad before the House of Commons last year voted down missile strikes on the country in a major foreign policy blow to Cameron.

His appointment followed Monday's surprise resignation of William Hague, who in recent months had worked closely with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie on a high-profile campaign to end rape as a weapon of war and is expected to continue work in this field.

He will continue to serve as a minister with responsibility for managing business in the House of Commons until the general election, when he will step down as a lawmaker.

In a series of tweets confirming the news, Hague wrote: "From May 2015, after such a long period in politics I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do".

He added: "Renewal in politics is good, and holding office is not an end in itself. After 26 years as an MP time will be right for me to move on."

Hammond is seen as a safe pair of hands whose appointment to the Foreign Office would reassure euroskeptics.

"Hammond isn't the kind of politician to set the heather alight," wrote political commentator James Forsyth in a blog posting for the Spectator magazine.

"But the fact that someone who has said that they'd vote to leave if substantial powers were not returned to the UK in the renegotiation is now Foreign Secretary sends a clear message to the rest of the EU about the British position."

As well as Hague's departure, around a dozen middle-aged, white male ministers are leaving Cameron's government.

They are expected to be replaced by a string of younger women, many of whom were only elected in 2010 but whose stock has been rising.

An early sign of Cameron's intentions was the announcement that Nicky Morgan would leave her role as minister for women and take over at the education ministry.

She replaces Michael Gove, whose tenure has been marked by frequent rows with teachers. He is becoming the government's chief whip, responsible for enforcing party discipline.

Liz Truss was also named as the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Political commentator Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times that the reshuffle was "meant to show female voters that the Conservative party is not a woman-free zone."

Cameron's Conservatives have consistently lagged behind the opposition Labor Party in recent polls.

Labor branded the reshuffle a "massacre of the moderates" and a retreat away from the European Union.

"Britain's foreign policy is now set to be led by a man who has talked about taking us out of the EU," said shadow Cabinet Office minister Michael Dugher.

"This reshuffle shows how weak David Cameron is, running scared of his own right wing."





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