Lord Bethell, the close ally of Matt Hancock who has admitted using his personal email for government business during the pandemic, has been sacked by Boris Johnson.
Come the prime minister’s reshuffle rolled on through its third day, Bethell was among a string of casualties among junior ministers.
The hereditary peer and nightclub entrepreneur was placed under investigation by the House of Lords standards committee in July after it emerged that he had sponsored a parliamentary pass for the former health secretary’s lover, Gina Coladangelo.
He has since become embroiled in legal action over his use of private emails. Bethell, who oversaw the award of Covid contracts, admitted to the practice but denied any wrongdoing, telling the Lords: “I have read and signed the ministerial code and I seek to uphold it in everything I do.”
Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, welcomed Bethell’s departure, but said it should have come earlier. She twittato: “If Boris Johnson had any integrity he would have sacked him a long time ago. Bethell has used Ministerial Office and taxpayers’ money to enrich his friends instead of serving the public and been dishonest about his private emails.”
Hancock resigned after being caught on camera in a clinch with Coladangelo, whom he had known since the pair were at Oxford University more than two decades ago. Both she and Bethell were involved in Hancock’s campaign for the Tory leadership in 2019.
Johnson’s reshuffle began on Wednesday with a brutal clearout of cabinet ministers deemed to have underperformed, including the gaffe-prone Gavin Williamson.
Dominic Raab was pushed aside as foreign secretary in favour of Liz Truss, though with the title of deputy prime minister, formalising the fact that he stands in for Johnson – at prime minister’s questions, for example – when he is away.
Johnson gathered his new cabinet for the first time on Friday morning – without masks – and gave them what he called a “half-time pep talk”, stressing the need to deliver on their promises and “level up” the country.
The shake-up was still rolling through Friday, with the junior ranks being filled. Appointments included the Norfolk MP George Freeman as the minister for science, research and innovation in the business department, and Lewes MP Maria Caulfield as a junior health minister.
Johnson sacked a number of longstanding middle-ranking ministers including John Whittingdale from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Nick Gibb from the Department for Education, promoting younger loyalists in their place.
The most junior jobs – parliamentary private secretaries or PPS – are expected to be handed out over the weekend, with many of the 2019 intake of MPs hoping to receive a call.