It was supposed to be a minor revamp of Boris Johnson’s top team, but the first cabinet reshuffle since the prime minister’s big general election win was actually a significant upheaval.
On Thursday, the PM and his advisers vanquished critics and rewarded loyalists, as is tradition in politics. But they also made an audacious bid to redraw how the top of government works in a barely disguised power move. Here are five of the main takeaways.
Chancellor Javid quits
Sajid Javid unexpectedly resigned as chancellor, to be replaced by rising star Rishi Sunak, who had been serving as his number two at the Treasury. The 38-year-old will have to deliver his first budget in less than a month.
The resignation was a bombshell. Javid, the first British Asian to hold one of the great offices of state, was the first name announced when Johnson unveiled his new cabinet after winning the Tory leadership race in July. The appointment was seen as a reward for a strong performance in the early stages of the contest to succeed Theresa May before he was eliminated.
For Sunak, the appointment marks a meteoric rise. A former banker, the MP for Richmond in Yorkshire entered parliament less than five years ago. He breaks boundaries too as he becomes the first Hindu to take charge at the Treasury.
The Cummings power grab
But there’s was a bigger story at play that belied the initial headline.
Downing Street later announced a new joint team of special advisers was being established in No. 10 and the Treasury to advise the prime minister and the chancellor, breaking down ling-established structures.
The prime minister also ordered Javid to fire his closest aides and replace them with advisers chosen by Number 10 if he wanted to remain in post. Javid later said that “any self-respecting minister” would reject the condition.
He told reporters: “I was unable to accept those conditions and I do not believe any self-respecting minister would accept those conditions.”
The resignation came against a backdrop of tensions between the ex-chancellor and the PM’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.
In August, Cummings fired Javid’s aide, Sonia Khan. Cummings accused her of remaining in contact with her former boss, ex-chancellor Philip Hammond.
Last year HuffPost UK revealed Cummings fired another one of Javid’s advisers, Salma Shah. On Thursday, she told HuffPost UK’s Commons People podcast that Javid was right to quit as chancellor as Downing Street tried to “neuter” him.
Cummings was said to be keen to cast off spending constraints with extra cash for the police and the NHS, while Javid was determined to keep control of the public finances.
Their rift played out in press briefings, with allies of Cummings coining the nickname “Chino” – “chancellor in name only” – for the occupant of the Treasury.
Big names binned
Javid was not the only big name to get the boot. In total, the prime minister sacked six ministers who attend cabinet, including those seen to have done their jobs effectively or aided Johnson’s rise to power.
Julian Smith was fired as Northern Ireland secretary, despite having recently helped secure a power-sharing deal at Stormont.
Geoffrey Cox, the attorney general, has been removed from his post and said it had been a privilege to serve during “recent turbulent political times”.
Esther McVey has been fired as housing minister and Andrea Leadsom has been ditched as business secretary. Both were fiercely pro-Brexit.
In a post on Facebook, Theresa Villiers said the prime minister told her she had to “make way for someone new” as she lost her job as environment secretary.
Here are the ministers confirmed so far in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle:
– Prime Minister: Boris Johnson
– Chancellor: Rishi Sunak
– Foreign secretary: Dominic Raab
– Home secretary: Priti Patel
– Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster: Michael Gove
– Justice secretary: Robert Buckland
– Defence secretary: Ben Wallace
– Health and social care secretary: Matt Hancock
– Business secretary: Alok Sharma
– International trade secretary: Liz Truss
– Work and pensions secretary: Therese Coffey
– Education secretary: Gavin Williamson
– Environment, food and rural affairs secretary: George Eustice
– Housing, communities and local government secretary: Robert Jenrick
– Transport secretary: Grant Shapps
– Culture secretary: Oliver Dowden
– International development secretary: Anne-Marie Trevelyan
– Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Evans of Bowes Park
– Northern Ireland secretary: Brandon Lewis
– Scottish secretary: Alister Jack
– Welsh secretary: Simon Hart
– Conservative party chairman: Amanda Milling
– Attorney general (attending cabinet): Suella Braverman
– Leader of the House of Commons (attending cabinet): Jacob Rees-Mogg
– Chief secretary to the Treasury (attending cabinet): Stephen Barclay
– Chief whip (attending cabinet): Mark Spencer
‘Assault on the rule of law’
Some of the new faces to take on new briefs also fit Johnson’s determination to shake things up.
Suella Braverman, a barrister, has joined the cabinet as attorney general and becomes the government’s most senior lawyer amid Johnson’s growing battle with the judiciary.
The 39-year-old’s appointment could raise eyebrows after she said recently that the courts should stay out of politics.
In a comment piece on the Conservative Home website last month, Braverman said parliament must “retrace power ceded to the courts”.
She said: “Prorogation and the triggering of Article 50 were merely the latest examples of a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges.
“For in reality, repatriated powers from the EU will mean precious little if our courts continue to act as political decision-maker, pronouncing on what the law ought to be and supplanting parliament.
“Traditionally, parliament made the law and judges applied it. But today, our courts exercise a form of political power.”
She also said that while the Human Rights Act was “noble in its intentions”, “the concept of ‘fundamental’ human rights has been stretched beyond recognition”.
Liberal Democrat justice spokeswoman Daisy Cooper described the appointment as an “assault on the rule of law” and accused Braverman of being “intent on weakening our courts”.
Despite reports he was set to be fired, Ben Wallace kept his job as defence secretary - and laughed as he left Downing Street following a meeting where it was confirmed he will stay at the Ministry of Defence.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has been hidden away from the public since he suggested Grenfell tower victims lacked common sense during the general election, but he retained his Commons leader post.
Elsewhere, Priti Patel remains as home secretary and Dominic Raab stays as foreign secretary.
Matt Hancock is still health secretary and Liz Truss remains as international trade secretary.
Therese Coffey is staying in post as work and pensions secretary.
Ministers who lost their seat around the cabinet table include:
– Sajid Javid resigned as chancellor
– Julian Smith was sacked as Northern Ireland secretary
– Andrea Leadsom was sacked as business secretary
– Theresa Villiers lost her job as environment secretary
– Geoffrey Cox was sacked as attorney general
– Esther McVey lost her job as housing minister attending Cabinet
The number of women attending Cabinet has fallen after the reshuffle. Out of 26 ministers attending the meeting of the PM’s top team, just seven are women – down from eight – and there are fewer women in the most senior roles. This equates to women filling 27% of Cabinet positions.
Leadsom, Villiers and McVey were all sacked, while former culture secretary Baroness Morgan left her role. Patel, Truss, Coffey and Baroness Evans kept their jobs – and Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Amanda Milling and Braverman were promoted. Trevelyan has been appointed international development secretary and Milling will now be Conservative Party chairman and minister without portfolio. But the posts of business secretary, environment secretary and culture secretary were all given to men.
The Sutton Trust charity also raised questions over the education background of the new cabinet and how it fails to mirror the Conservative electoral advances in the north of England and penetrating Labour’s ‘red wall’.
It found that 62% of the new-look cabinet attended independent schools, a very small decrease from Johnson’s previous cabinet (64%). There was also a slight increase in the proportion educated at comprehensives, from 27% in 2019 to 31% now.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “The falling of the ‘red wall’ means Conservative MPs now represent a much more diverse range of constituencies than before, with constituents from many different socio-economic backgrounds.
“Today’s findings underline how unevenly spread the opportunities are to enter the elites and this is something Boris Johnson must address.”