Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 February 2020

Boris Johnson's Cabinet reshuffle in turmoil as finance chief quits over aides row

Middle East minister also replaced after Boris Johnson's crushing election victory

Boris Johnson is likely to keep senior cabinet figures. AFP
Boris Johnson is likely to keep senior cabinet figures. AFP

Britain’s finance minister resigned on Thursday, casting a cloud over a reshuffle of Cabinet posts and depriving the Conservative government of a leading symbol of diversity.

The UK's first senior officer holder from a Muslim background, Sajid Javid, confirmed he quit after rejecting an order by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to sack all of his special advisers or lose his job.

“I don’t believe any self-respecting minister would accept such conditions,” Mr Javid said. “I felt that I was left with no option other than to resign.”

The move comes weeks before the former interior minister was to produce the next budget.

The son of a Pakistan-born bus driver, Mr Javid had clashed with Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, over key aides.

Mr Cummings fired an aide to the Chancellor last year without letting him know of the move in advance.

His resignation prompted the sterling to rally amid speculation of a fiscal stimulus.

“The initial reaction has been weaker sterling but we are now seeing a rally to a new high,” said Adam Seagrave, head of global sales trading at Saxo Capital Markets.

“This is presumably the market interpreting the announcement as Johnson wanting advisers who are more willing to back aggressive fiscal stimulus.”

The Chancellor was replaced by Rishi Sunak, who had been his de-facto deputy.

Middle East minister Andrew Murrison was also replaced, having been in the role since last May.

He described the job, which included time in the Ministry of International Development, as "a huge privilege".

Mr Johnson had been set to for a limited overhaul of his Cabinet on Thursday after a crushing election victory in December last year that was not expected to cost any senior figures their jobs.

He got rid of some hardcore Brexiteers whose support he needed as he worked to ensure the country left the EU in January.

Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid outside 10 Downing Street in central London on Thursday. AFP
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid outside 10 Downing Street in central London on Thursday. AFP

Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith was sacked amid questions about his handling of the potential prosecution of British soldiers involved in the province's three-decade conflict.

“Serving the people of Northern Ireland has been the biggest privilege," Mr Smith said.

"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 Northern Ireland has been incredible. Thank you so much."

He was sacked despite overseeing the restoration of government to Northern Ireland last month through a power-sharing deal after a three-year hiatus.

British Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Julian Smith. EPA
Sacked British Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith. EPA

Ms Smith's dismissal was met with sadness by leaders in the Republic of Ireland, who praised his role in advancing the political situation.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said he was "one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time. Thank you".

Junior transport minister Nusrat Ghani, a Muslim who had been tipped for a promotion, was also fired.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, who came second to Theresa May in the race to become prime minister in 2016, was also sacked.

Ms Leadsom was replaced by development secretary Alok Sharma.

Updated: February 14, 2020 12:55 AM

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