LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister David Cameron named arch-Eurosceptic Philip Hammond as his new Foreign Secretary on Tuesday in a major Cabinet reshuffle ahead of next year's general election.
Mr Hammond, the former defence secretary who replaces Mr William Hague, supports Britain leaving the European Union in a referendum in 2017 unless significant powers are returned to London. He has been replaced as Defence Secretary by Mr Michael Fallon, a veteran loyalist.
Tuesday's reshuffle is the biggest since Mr Cameron's Conservative-led coalition government took office in 2010 and marks a bid to broaden his party's appeal at the election. He has promised a referendum on Britain leaving the European Union in three years' time if he stays in power.
Mr Cameron also said Tuesday he had nominated Mr Jonathan Hill, leader of Parliament's Upper Chamber the House of Lords, as Britain's next EU Commissioner. Mr Hill is little known, even in Britain, but was described by media as a mild Eurosceptic.
As well as Mr Hague, who chose to step down after four years in the job, around a dozen middle-aged, white male ministers are leaving Mr Cameron's government.
Many are being replaced by younger women who were only elected in 2010 but whose stock has been rising. These include Ms Nicky Morgan, a former lawyer who will take over from Mr Michael Gove as Education Secretary, and Ms Liz Truss.
Newspapers billed the reshuffle as a cull of the "pale, male and stale", which opened the door for a new wave of women to get ministerial jobs.
It also saw the government turn more Eurosceptic as Mr Cameron seeks to face down the anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), which many lawmakers fear could take seats from the Conservatives at the 2015 election.
"I think it (the reshuffle) will be interpreted in Europe as raising the stakes and showing that this is now getting more serious," Mr Mats Persson, director of the Open Europe think-tank in London, told AFP.
Most current opinion polls put the main opposition centre-left Labour party several points ahead of the centre-right Conservatives, with UKIP in third position ahead of Mr Cameron's centrist coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats.
Mr Hammond, 58, is seen as a safe pair of hands whose appointment to the Foreign Office would reassure Eurosceptics.
"Hammond isn't the kind of politician to set the heather alight," wrote political commentator James Forsyth in a blog posting for the Spectator magazine.
"But the fact that someone who has said that they'd vote to leave if substantial powers were not returned to the UK in the renegotiation is now Foreign Secretary sends a clear message to the rest of the EU about the British position."
Political commentator Janan Ganesh wrote in the Financial Times that the reshuffle was "meant to show female voters that the Conservative party is not a woman-free zone".
Mr Cameron had promised in opposition to make a third of his government female but has fallen well short of this target until now.
Mr Hague's announcement that he was quitting effectively ends the political career of a man Mr Cameron called "one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation".
He led the Conservatives during a torrid period between 1997 and 2001 before retreating from frontline politics to write historical biographies for several years.
As Foreign Secretary, he was a leading voice urging the overthrow of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the House of Commons last year voted down missile strikes in a major foreign policy blow to Mr Cameron.
In recent months, he had worked closely with Hollywood star Angelina Jolie on a high-profile campaign to end rape as a weapon of war.
Mr Hague will continue to serve as a minister with responsibility for managing business in the House of Commons before stepping down as a lawmaker at next year's election.
Full list of changes (according to Britain's The Telegraph)
Change in portfolio
1. Mr William Hague - from Foreign Secretary to Leader of the Commons
2. Mr Philip Hammond - from Defence Secretary to Foreign Secretary
3. Mr Michael Gove - from Education Secretary to Chief Whip
New to the Cabinet
1. Ms Nicky Morgan - from Treasury Minister to Education Secretary
2. Ms Liz Truss - from Education Minister to Environment Secretary
3. Mr Michael Fallon - from Business Minister to Defence Secretary
4. Mr Jeremy Wright - from Junior Justice Minister to Attorney-General
5. Mr Stephen Crabb - from Welsh Office Minister to Welsh Secretary
6. Mr Greg Clark - now Minister for Science and Universities and Minister of State at the Cabinet Office, attending Cabinet
7. Ms Esther McVey - Employment Minister, will now attend Cabinet
8. Mr Matt Hancock - Skills Minister to Minister of State for Business, Enterprise and Energy, attending Cabinet
9, Baroness Tina Stowell - now Leader of the Lords
10. Ms Penny Mordaunt - now Parliamentary Under-secretary of State
11. Ms Amber Rudd - now Parliamentary Under-secretary of State at Department of Energy and Climate Change
12. Ms Priti Patel - now Exchequer Secretary
13. Ms Claire Perry - now Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at Transport
1. Mr Nick Boles - Planning Minister now appointed as a joint Minister Business and Education
2. Mr Mike Penning - appointed a joint minister for the Home Office and Justice
3. Mr Mark Harper - former immigration minister who resigned now appointed a Minister of State at DWP
Out of Cabinet
1. Mr Andrew Lansley, Leader of the Commons
2. Mr Ken Clarke, Cabinet minister without portfolio
3. Sir George Young, Chief Whip
4. Mr Dominic Grieve, Attorney-General
5. Mr David Jones, Welsh Secretary
6. Mr David Willetts, Universities Minister
7. Mr Damien Green, Police Minister
8. Mr Alan Duncan, International Development Minister
9. Mr Andrew Robathan, Northern Ireland Minister
10. Mr Nick Hurd, Civil Society Minister
11. Mr Stephen Hammond, Rail Minister
12. Mr Oliver Heald, Solicitor General
13. Mr Hugh Robertson, Foreign Office Minister
14. Mr Greg Barker, Energy Minister
Nominated for European Commission
1. Lord Jonathan Hill of Oareford - formerly Leader of the House of Lords