U.K.’s Northern Ireland Minister Quits as May Shuffles Cabinet

Britain’s Minister of State for Immigration Brandon Lewis arrives at 10 Downing Street, London, Monday. (Reuters/Simon Dawson)

British Prime Minister Theresa May started the new political year Monday with a Cabinet shake-up, hoping to re-energize her government as negotiations on Britain’s divorce from the European Union enter a crucial new phase.

While senior ministers including Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Brexit Secretary David Davis are expected to keep their jobs, May is looking to make her Conservative government more representative of Britain. She is expected to appoint more women, people from ethnic minorities and recently elected lawmakers to ministerial posts.

Her shuffle was complicated by the resignation of the U.K.’s minister for Northern Ireland amid a long-running political crisis in Belfast. James Brokenshire said he was quitting because he is about to have surgery for a lesion on his lung and will need time to recover.

In a letter to May, Brokenshire said that “as a result of my forthcoming surgery I will not be able to give the effort, energy and complete focus needed at this important time.”

Northern Ireland’s power-sharing administration has been suspended for a year amid a stalemate between the main Irish nationalist and British unionist parties. The parties in Belfast have missed several government-imposed deadlines to restore power sharing, and Northern Ireland faces direct rule from London if a solution is not found soon.

The status of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland also remains a major issue in Brexit negotiations.

Britain and the EU are set to begin discussing future trade relations, with just over a year to go until the U.K. leaves the bloc on March 29, 2019.

Britain hopes to secure agreement on a post-Brexit transition period by March 31, and to draft a withdrawal agreement by the end of this year.

As Parliament returned from its winter break Monday, May summoned ministers to 10 Downing St. to be moved, promoted or demoted.

She removed Patrick McLoughlin, who as Conservative Party chairman oversaw last year’s disastrous election campaign. The party lost its majority in Parliament after May called a snap election aimed at consolidating her grip on power and strengthening her hand in Brexit talks with the EU.

McLoughlin was replaced Monday by Brandon Lewis, a former immigration minister.