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U.K. Cabinet Moves Signal a Swerve Toward the Political Center

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s reshuffle of his cabinet on Monday appeared to signal a shift away from the divisive politics that were championed by the hard-right home secretary, Suella Braverman, and had become a feature of his government in recent months.

Ms. Braverman was replaced by James Cleverly, a more conciliatory figure who has rarely talked about the cultural issues that his predecessor frequently promoted.

Replacing Mr. Cleverly at the foreign office is the former prime minister David Cameron, a politician from the center right who, for five years, led a coalition government with the centrist Liberal Democrats. An opponent of Brexit, Mr. Cameron called a referendum on the issue hoping — but failing — to win a mandate to stay in the European Union.

Neither of the two appointments are likely to be greeted warmly by the right-wing faction of the Conservative Party, where Ms. Braverman had a small but vocal group of supporters.

Nor is the decision to keep Jeremy Hunt as chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Hunt’s resistance to tax cuts has displeased a wider group of Conservative lawmakers. He has made controlling inflation his priority and says that reducing taxes will have to wait.

Still, Mr. Sunak’s Conservative leadership has been facing deep political peril, with polls showing the party trailing Labour by around 20 points, and with attempts by the prime minister to appeal to the right having failed to change the party’s standing.

Ms. Braverman had used her position in the cabinet to push a hard-line on migration, using inflammatory rhetoric. She described migration as a “hurricane,” the arrival of asylum seekers on the British coast as an “invasion” and homelessness as a “lifestyle choice.”

While Mr. Sunak’s rhetoric was always more measured, he supported most of her ideas — in particular, her plans to stop asylum seekers arriving in small boats by sending them to Rwanda.

And with a general election looming, the prime minister had recently given more emphasis to policies championed by the right of the party. In recent months, he has weakened environmental targets, pledged to defend motorists and promised to extract more oil and gas from the North Sea.

Analysts have seen those statements as part of a wider pitch to try to energize people who voted for the Conservatives during the last general election in 2019 but who appear to be drifting away from the party, according to opinion polls.

How the latest moves at the top of the government fit into Mr. Sunak’s wider strategy ahead of the general election remains to be seen.

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