LONDON – The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson strengthened his influence over cabinet ministers Thursday with a reshuffle marked by Sajid Javid’s shock resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
A member of Javid’s team said Johnson had offered to keep the chancellor in his role if he agreed to fire his special advisors and replace them with others vetted by Downing Street.
“The chancellor said no self-respecting chancellor would accept those terms,” the source told press.
Johnson’s move came despite previous assurances that he would not make any major changes to the Treasury while the UK navigated the tricky waters of the Brexit negotiations and prepared to post its Budget in March.
Political observers were quick to underline Javid’s disastrous relationship with Dominic Cummings, the PM’s influential chief advisor and architect of the Vote Leave campaign.
Conservative MP and former banker Rishi Sunak, who is seen as a Johnson ally, replaced Javid.
It is a meteoric rise for a politician who just seven months ago was working as a parliamentary under-secretary in the housing ministry.
Downing Street said it would now share a single team of special advisors with the Treasury, demonstrating Johnson’s bid to centralize his powers.
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell of the left-wing Labour Party said: “This is a historical record. A government in chaos within weeks of an election. It’s clear Dominic Cummings has won the battle to take absolute control of the Treasury and has installed his stooge as the Chancellor.”
While deep changes were taking place in the Treasury, other big hitters Priti Patel and Dominic Raab kept their jobs as home secretary and foreign secretary respectively.
Among those packing their bags was Julian Smith, the Northern Ireland secretary, who leaves just weeks after helping restore the devolved power-sharing chamber of Stormont to get local lawmaking up-and-running after years of deadlock.
He said it had been his “biggest privilege” to serve the people of Northern Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar described Smith as “one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time.”
The changes in government come as Johnson tries to shore up support in Westminster to push through plans for a highspeed rail network in England.
The country is also about to be submerged in complicated trade negotiations with the EU following its departure from the bloc on 31 January.