13 February 2020 14:43

James O'Brien Brexit Donald Tusk

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LONDON (Reuters) - British finance minister Sajid Javid resigned on Thursday, a surprise move that underlined Prime Minister Boris Johnson's desire to tighten his grip on government in a long-planned reshuffle by jettisoning a minister who refused to toe the line. Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street in London, Britain February 13, 2020. Johnson, who wanted to minimise any disruption from the cabinet reshuffle, quickly appointed Javid's deputy Rishi Sunak, an ultra-loyal supporter of the prime minister who has often been put in front of the cameras to sell government policy. The prime minister's team had carefully choreographed the reshuffle, presenting it as an opportunity to foster new talent, particularly among women, while also rewarding loyal supporters to deliver his vision for Britain beyond Brexit. But the finance minister's resignation - which some commentators said might have been sought by Johnson's team - due to a dispute over Javid's advisers added to the picture that the prime minister will not tolerate dissent in his government.

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"He has turned down the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister)," a source close to Javid said. The source said Johnson had told Javid he would have to sack his advisers and replace them with advisers from the prime minister's Downing Street office. "The Chancellor said no self-respecting minister would accept those terms." Sunak, who once worked for investment bank Goldman Sachs and is married to the daughter of an Indian billionaire, is seen by many Conservatives as a safe pair of hands who will easily get on board with Johnson's agenda for a post-Brexit Britain. Johnson has promised to reduce the wealth and opportunity gap between parts of Britain by channelling investment into northern and central England, where he won the votes of traditional supporters of the main opposition Labour Party. Johnson had not been expected to change the biggest-hitting posts in his government, keeping change to a mimimum.

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But even the smaller changes in the lower ranks of government offered some insight into how he wanted to tighten his grip on power. His sacking of Northern Ireland minister Julian Smith, who only a month ago had helped broker the restoration of a government in the British province, prompted criticism from politicians north and south of the border with Ireland. Smith, who had been in charge of parliamentary discipline for Johnson's predecessor, Theresa May, was the first minister to lose his job in the reshuffle. Ultra-loyal Alok Sharma, a former minister for international development, was appointed as the new minister for business and also the head of the COP26 climate change summit in Scotland in November, due to be attended by world leaders. But it was Javid's move which shook up the 'business as usual' look that Johnson had wanted to portray.

Downing Street aides had previously played down suggestions, based on Johnson's senior adviser Dominic Cummings' well-publicised desire to see a radical reorganisation of government, that there would be major changes. A source in Johnson's office said on Wednesday the prime minister wanted the "reshuffle to set the foundations for government now and in the future" and to promote new talent, particularly women. It was clear that loyalty mattered to Johnson to be able to deliver his agenda and meet the promises he made in the run-up to the December 12 election, in which he won a large majority. But opposition politicians said the reshuffle was a mess. A government in chaos within weeks of an election," said John McDonnell, finance spokesman for the main opposition Labour Party. Following the shock resignation of Chancellor Sajid Javid, a new chancellor has been appointed. With just four weeks to go until the Budget, one of the main events in the calendar for the UK Treasury, Mr Javid has been replaced by new Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Mr Sunak has been the Conservative MP for Richmond in Yorkshire since 2015. He was born in 1980 in Southampton in Hampshire, and studied at the exclusive private school Winchester College. Mr Sunak then went on to Oxford University to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics, a tried and trusted route for aspiring Westminster politicians. Mr Sunak campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum, and his constituency voted 55% Leave. He voted for Theresa May's Brexit deal on all three occasions, and was an early supporter of Boris Johnson, making a number of media appearances in his support. In July 2019 Mr Sunak was picked by Mr Johnson to be chief secretary to the Treasury, after being parliamentary under-secretary in the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government from January 2018 to July 2019. Image copyright Sajid Javid Mr Sunak is seen as a rising star in the Conservatives, with endorsements from people including former Conservative Party leader Lord Hague of Richmond, who has described Mr Sunak as an "exceptional individual". He was also endorsed by Mr Javid, who in a recent tweet said "The force is strong with young Sunak" in reference to a phrase from Disney's Star Wars franchise. Mr Sunak is a Hindu, who doesn't eat beef. Yorkshire MP Rishi Sunak has been announced as the country's next Chancellor after Sajid Javid dramatically resigned on reshuffle day. Mr Javid's shock resignation is reported to have come after a row with the Prime Minister and his most senior adviser Dominic Cummings over special advisers. Rishi Sunak is taking over as Chancellor. And although there had previously been concerns Richmond MP Mr Sunak - a well thought of and popular figure in the Conservative Party - was not quite ready for one of the biggest jobs in Government, he has now got shot. Mr Javid's spokesman confirmed he had resigned. Mr Javid said that "no self-respecting minister" could accept the condition being imposed. "He has turned down the job of Chancellor of the Exchequer," a source close to Mr Javid said. "The Prime Minister said he had to fire all his special advisers and replace them with Number 10 special advisers to make it one team. "The Chancellor said no self-respecting minister would accept those terms." Mr Sunak has been Chief Secretary to the Treasury since July 2019, and was regularly sent out to bat for Boris Johnson in media appearances both during and since the election. It has long been predicted that he would be due a promotion for his efforts when Mr Johnson took a look at his top team, potentially within a new super-ministry focusing on the economy. But with merger plans seeming to take a back seat, it had been reported that he may instead be kept at the Treasury, where he is currently Chief Secretary, to keep an eye on Mr Javid and oversee the spending review. However Mr Javid's resignation has thrown this into disarray. It is now understood No 10 and No 11 will have a new joint team of advisers, signalling the PM will have more control. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said Mr Javid's resignation had left the Government in crisis. "This must be a historical record with the Government in crisis after just over two months in power," he said. "Dominic Cummings has clearly won the battle to take absolute control of the Treasury and install his stooge as Chancellor."