The Guardian LONDON, David Cameron has made a stunning political comeback as Rishi Sunak’s foreign secretary in a cabinet reshuffle in which Suella Braverman was sacked as home secretary.

The prime minister, who pledged to be the “change candidate” at the Conservative conference just a month ago, turned to his centrist predecessor on Monday to help close the gap with Labour as he confirmed the ministerial team expected to lead the party into the next election.

Sunak moved James Cleverly, a moderate who was foreign secretary, to the Home Office, and confirmed that Jeremy Hunt would stay as chancellor, in a clear shift towards the centre ground that alarmed some on the right of the party.

Cameron, who has kept a relatively low public profile since quitting as prime minister after the 2016 Brexit vote, said: “I’ve decided to join this team because I believe Rishi Sunak is a good prime minister doing a difficult job at a hard time. I want to support him.”

The former Tory leader, who has been made a life peer, said that although he had “disagreed with some individual decisions” by Sunak’s government, “politics is a team enterprise”.

The reshuffle, which represents a shift towards securing the Tory base in southern blue wall seats, even if it costs them votes in the northern “red wall”, is probably a last throw of the dice for Sunak. The party is trailing Labour by more than 20 points and the government is under pressure from its own MPs to cut taxes in next week’s autumn statement, a move made less likely by Hunt’s remaining at the Treasury.

Cameron’s return, which sources said had been facilitated by the Tory former leader William Hague, comes with baggage – including his role leading the remain campaign and how that will be viewed by a party now overwhelmingly pro-Brexit. His role as the architect of austerity, which left many of Britain’s public services crippled and its welfare system diminished, is also likely to face renewed scrutiny.

Allies said he was expecting to face criticism over his business dealings with China since leaving government, as well as his position on UK-China cooperation, which went through a “golden era” during his administration, something Sunak described as “naive” last year after growing tensions with Beijing.

He faced immediate questions over his role in the Greensill scandal two years ago, when he lobbied government ministers to provide financing for the financial services company. “As far as I’m concerned they have been all dealt with and in the past,” he said.

Cameron, the first former prime minister to return to the cabinet since Alec Douglas-Home in the 1970s, has also been a strong supporter of the UK retaining its commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on international aid, a commitment Sunak has since junked.

He will represent the government from the Lords – as former cabinet ministers Nicky Morgan, Andrew Adonis and Peter Mandelson have done before him – and will be paid £104,360 but no longer claim the allowance for former PMs. He will be represented in the Commons by the aid minister Andrew Mitchell.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign chief, said: “This puts to bed the prime minister’s laughable claim to offer change from 13 years of Tory failure.”

Sunak vowed to stand up for tolerance and free speech as “conflicts overseas create division at home” in a speech on foreign policy at the lord mayor’s banquet in London’s Guildhall on Monday evening.

Rishi Sunak makes speech at Lord Mayor’s banquet – watch live

The prime minister said: “We will protect all communities from violence and intimidation and prevent people from being drawn into radicalisation. We will show that the best are full of conviction and our values will prevail.”

His decision to bring back Cameron could fuel anger on the right of the party, but it delighted moderate Conservatives, who have been dismayed by Braverman’s aggressively rightwing rhetoric on issues such as immigration, policing and homelessness.

She was sacked by Sunak in a brief phone call on Monday morning after her inflammatory article in the Times last week over the policing of protests, which failed to include major changes demanded by the prime minister’s advisers. One ally then described No 10 as “clowns”.

In a brief statement, the former home secretary warned that she would have “more to say in due course”, with allies suggesting she will unleash another eviscerating newspaper article, positioning herself as a figurehead for right-leaning Conservative MPs.

Rightwing Tories were meeting on Monday evening while one MP, Andrea Jenkyns, published a formal letter of no confidence in the prime minister. “Enough is enough,” she wrote. “It is time for Rishi Sunak to go and replace him with a ‘real’ Conservative party leader.”

The former minister Simon Clarke, an ally of both Liz Truss and Boris Johnson, posted an apparently pointed tweet about the footballer Raheem Sterling being omitted from the England squad.

“Some controversial choices here from the manager, putting it very mildly,” Clarke posted on X. “Never wise to lack options on the right wing – the squad risks being badly unbalanced.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP, told GB News: “I think from the point of view of the Conservatives winning the next election, today is a mistake because Suella understood what the British voter thought and was trying to do something about it.”

Braverman is expected to mount a future Tory leadership bid, should the party lose the next election, with the support of members of the rightwing Common Sense Group. Sunak’s allies rejected the prospect of any contest this side of polling day, with one saying: “Suella and whose army?”

The former home secretary played a key role in trying to deliver Sunak’s pledge to stop small boat crossings over the Channel and deportation flights to Rwanda, which the supreme court will rule on this Wednesday, but she became involved in a series of rows, often irritating No 10.

She referred to the arrival of asylum seekers as an “invasion on our southern coast”, attacked the “luxury beliefs” of liberal-leaning people, suggested homeless people had made a “lifestyle choice”, and repeatedly labelled demonstrations calling for a Gaza ceasefire as “hate marches”.

Thérèse Coffey, who was deputy prime minister under Liz Truss, was replaced as environment secretary by Steve Barclay, the former health secretary who in turn was replaced by the moderate Victoria Atkins. Another centrist, Laura Trott, was promoted to Treasury chief secretary, while John Glen moved to become paymaster general.

The reshuffle also brought the resignation of five junior ministers who had well over three decades of frontbench experience between them, with No 10 saying it made the way for younger talent. Another junior minister, Rachel Maclean, was pushed out as the 15th housing minister since the Tories took power.

The former transport minister, Richard Holden, took over from Greg Hands as Tory party chair, even though his seat disappears in the boundary review. Esther McVey, a leading rightwinger and GB News presenter, moves to the Cabinet Office where she takes on the role of “common sense” minister.