LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson began a long-anticipated shake-up of his cabinet on Wednesday, reassigning his foreign secretary and several other ministers in a move designed to revitalize a government whose popularity now appears to be waning.
The biggest change came with the removal of Dominic Raab, whose position as foreign secretary had been considered tenuous after widespread criticism of his handling of the evacuation from Afghanistan. Mr. Raab was appointed justice secretary but was also given the title of deputy prime minister, softening the blow of a move that will be seen by many as a demotion.
Mr. Raab’s standing during the evacuation of Afghanistan had been further diminished by his decision to delay returning from vacation as the Taliban took control of Kabul.
Three other senior ministers confirmed they had been removed: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, and Robert Jenrick, the housing, communities and local government secretary.
The reshuffle gives Mr. Johnson the chance to reshape the top echelons of his government ahead of a party conference next month at which he will try to provide a clearer post-Covid policy agenda. But with coronavirus case numbers still high, the government is also bracing for the possibility of a surge in hospitalizations in the fall and winter.
On Tuesday, Mr. Johnson laid out his plans for combating the virus as the winter approaches, saying Britain would offer vaccine booster shots to people aged 50 and over, and first shots to children of ages 12 to 15. His government is determined to avoid a further lockdown but could resort to measures like mask mandates if infections surge.
After a successful beginning to Britain’s vaccine program earlier this year, Mr. Johnson’s Conservatives surged in the opinion polls, but that lead now appears to be evaporating. Last week Mr. Johnson took a gamble by breaking an election promise not to raise taxes so that he could allocate more cash to health and social care.
His critics have also complained of a lack of clarity over the government’s main domestic promise of “leveling up,” meaning delivering prosperity to economically deprived regions.
As education secretary, Mr. Williamson had faced fierce criticism for presiding over a crisis in schools examination results last year. Mr. Jenrick, as housing secretary, faced criticism after approving a property project involving a Conservative Party donor, and was in charge of a proposed loosening of house-building restrictions in England that was unpopular among some Conservative lawmakers. Mr. Buckland’s tenure was much smoother but his departure frees up a position in the cabinet for other moves.
But up to now Mr. Johnson had been reluctant to move or fire members of a top team that was initially selected largely from his own supporters and advocates of Brexit, which Mr. Johnson championed.
Since his landslide general election victory in December 2019, Mr. Johnson has made few changes to his cabinet, most notably in February 2020, when Sajid Javid resigned as chancellor of the Exchequer after refusing to accept curbs on his right to hire his own advisers.
Mr. Javid’s job went to Rishi Sunak, who has emerged as a leading figure in the government and a potential successor to Mr. Johnson. However, Mr. Javid returned to the cabinet earlier this year as health secretary when his predecessor, Matt Hancock, was forced to resign from that post in June.