Sajid Javid has abruptly quit as UK chancellor after a power struggle with prime minister Boris Johnson and his top adviser Dominic Cummings over how to manage the country’s finances in the aftermath of Brexit.
His sudden departure, only eight months into the job, disrupts plans for the country’s Budget, which is scheduled for March 11. He was immediately replaced by Rishi Sunak, who accepted Downing Street’s plans to take control of the chancellor’s office.
Mr Javid met the prime minister for an hour on Thursday morning and refused a request to sack his advisers, according to Whitehall officials. The chancellor’s team had been engaged in a briefing war with Downing Street in recent weeks over who will be responsible for writing the upcoming Budget. Mr Javid, who has never presented a Budget, is the first chancellor to quit since Nigel Lawson in 1989.
Mr Sunak, the 39-year-old Treasury chief secretary who stood in for Mr Johnson in television debates during the general election campaign, has accepted a combined team of advisers from No 10 and No 11.
Mr Johnson had intended for his first cabinet reshuffle to be “moderate”, according to Downing Street insiders, but his decision to confront Mr Javid has backfired.
Earlier the prime minister sacked Julian Smith as Northern Ireland secretary and Andrea Leadsom as business secretary in the first moves of his reshuffle, which is expected to promote a significant number of women in government.
Mr Johnson also fired several other prominent ministers, including environment secretary Theresa Villiers, attorney-general Geoffrey Cox, housing minister Esther McVey, universities and science minister Chris Skidmore, and transport ministers Nusrat Ghani and George Freeman.
Nicky Morgan, culture secretary, had said she intended to leave government in the reshuffle.
Mr Johnson is expected to announce their replacements later on Thursday.
Mr Smith, who was widely praised for restoring the devolved government at Stormont last month, was criticised by Downing Street insiders who were unhappy about aspects of the power-sharing agreement that would investigate murders during the Troubles.
Following a meeting with Mr Johnson in his House of Commons office, Mr Smith tweeted: “Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege. I am extremely grateful to Boris Johnson for giving me the chance to serve this amazing part of our country. The warmth and support from people across NI has been incredible. Thank you so much.”
Allies of Mr Johnson said the prime minister was “blindsided” by some aspects of Mr Smith’s deal, which probably contributed to the decision to replace him. “There is concern about the way he’s been operating,” a senior government source told The Times. The Conservatives had promised at the election to end “vexatious” prosecutions of former servicemen.
The departure of Mr Smith may prompt anger among members of the cabinet, who insist that the Northern Ireland secretary has kept Mr Johnson and the cabinet fully briefed on the Stormont deal taking shape.
All ministers were given details of the plan through a “write round” of the proposed policy on January 11 and one colleague of Mr Smith said: “The idea that there wasn’t full awareness of the deal is completely untrue.”
One senior Conservative MP questioned the logic of the move. “He’s trusted in Stormont and Dublin, at a moment when Sinn Féin holds sway in both and our interests are challenged. This is not going to make life easier.”
Mrs Leadsom said it ha been a “real privilege” to serve in government over the ast six years. “I will continue from the backbenches to work to ensure everyone is treated with dignity and respect,” she tweeted.
One member of a business lobby group reacted by saying: “No business group is crying about Leadsom going at all. She was absolute rubbish.”
Announcing her departure, Ms Villiers said: “What the prime minister giveth, the prime minister taketh away: just over six months ago, I was delighted to be invited by the prime minister to return to government after three years on the backbenches. This morning he told me that I need to make way for someone new.”
Meanwhile, Mr Skidmore tweeted that he was leaving his post to spend more time with his newborn child. “Thanks everyone who I’ve had the chance to work with and the civil service teams that have supported me — you have all been amazing.” It was not clear if he resigned or was fired.
After months of speculation that the prime minister would use his post-election reshuffle to revolutionise the look of his government, his allies on Wednesday had said only “moderate” changes would be made.
Mr Johnson’s allies had previously said he would not change his top team: Mr Javid, Dominic Raab, foreign secretary, and Priti Patel, home secretary, had all been predicted to remain in their jobs.
Instead Mr Johnson had been expected to focus on bringing into the lower and middle reaches of his government talented MPs — particularly women — whom he hopes will be in the cabinet by the time of the next election.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, armed forces minister, Suella Braverman, a leading Brexiter and former minister, and backbench MP Gillian Keegan, who started work in a Liverpool car factory at the age of 16 and went on to forge a successful business career, are among those set to be promoted.
“The prime minister wants this reshuffle to set the foundations for government now and in the future,” said one Number 10 official. “He wants to promote a generation of talent that will be promoted further in coming years.”