After appointing Priti Patel to the high-profile role of Home secretary, Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday promoted junior minister Alok Sharma to the rank of a cabinet minister with the portfolio of international development.
Johnson, who began the process of forming his team soon after being appointed prime minister by Queen Elizabeth, also promoted Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy to the role of chief secretary to the Treasury under new chancellor Sajid Javid.
As the international development secretary, Sharma, 51, will be responsible for a overseas British aid in a department committed to spending 0.7% of the UK’s national income as international aid each year. Britain has long stopped traditional aid to India, but funds some programmes in selected states.
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Hampshire-born Sunak, 39, has been MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, since 2015. He was a junior minister in the department of local government, and as the chief secretary to the Treasury, he will attend cabinet meetings.
Agra-born Sharma, who is MP for Reading West since 2010, was the employment minister in the Theresa May government. He was one of the foremost supporters of Johnson in the recent Conservative leadership election.
When Johnson was the foreign secretary in the May government, Sharma had the junior role of parliamentary under secretary of state in the Foreign Office with responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region. He often responded on the government’s behalf in parliament on Indian issues.
The appointments of Patel, Sharma and Sunak mean it will be the first time the UK prime minister’s cabinet table will have three ministers from the 1.5 million-strong Indian community.
A fervent Brexiteer who campaigned with Johnson during the 2016 EU referendum campaign, Patel’s role as home secretary puts her in charge of immigration, among other sensitive issues such as security.
Patel will have to take a call on the large number of Indian students caught up in the language test cheating row that has increasingly come on the centre stage during the home secretaryship of her predecessor, Sajid Javid.
She will also be under pressure to implement her promise made during the referendum campaign to relax visa norms to allow the recruitment of chefs from the Indian sub-continent in the UK’s struggling Indian restaurant industry.
Patel was nominated as the ‘Indian Diaspora Champion’ by Cameron and played a frontline role in interactions between the government and the 1.5 million-strong Indian community in the UK, visiting Gujarat and India several times in recent years.
Former Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Patel international development secretary in July 2016 but sacked her in November 2017 after it emerged that she held unauthorised meetings with the Israeli government during a holiday.
The appointments of Patel, Sharma and Sunak are part of Johnson’s new-look government that excluded several leading lights in May’s team. It remains a Conservative government, but Johnson brought in new faces to prepare for United Kingdom leaving the European Union in 99 days time on October 31.