surprise resignation of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid in London on February 13, 2020.
British Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid in London on February 13, 2020. ISABEL INFANTES / AFP

Boris Johnson was to be content, Thursday, February 13, of a reshuffle limited to a small play of musical chairs, with some new heads – women, in particular -, and the departure of two or three personalities considered bulky. But this long-anticipated operation turned into a big political failure when, in the middle of the day, Sajid Javid, Chancellor of the Exchequer – Minister of Finance – announced his resignation.

The departure of the 50-year-old, who has so far been loyal to the Prime Minister, was clearly not in Downing Street's plans and could create a stir. Javid was due to present the first post-Brexit budget on March 11, and the government is set to enter into negotiations with Brussels on its future relationship with the European Union (EU). Younger treasury secretary Rishi Sunak, 39, a rising figure in the Conservative Party, will replace him, Downing Street said.

Has Mr. Javid had enough of swallowing snakes, of seeming too obedient? He would have resigned, according to relatives quoted by the British media, because the Prime Minister ordered him to get rid of all the advisers in his cabinet to welcome troops coming directly from Downing Street. Tensions between the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Mr. Johnson's team were evident in the summer of 2019, when Dominic Cummings, the very authoritarian special adviser to the Prime Minister, had fired an adviser to Mr. Javid without warning beforehand, on the grounds that she would have kept in touch with the team of the previous chancellor. The young woman had to leave her office escorted by the police.

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The interview given by Mr. Javid to Financial times, in early January, in which he said that the United Kingdom was not seeking regulatory alignment with the EU and that British companies only had to adapt, had surprised: a finance minister not taking the Defense of the business community? The business daily had, in the process, published a rather cruel portrait of Mr. Javid, judging that he was a Chancellor of the Exchequer "Capable and accommodating". "If there is one lesson that Boris Johnson has learned from history, it is to avoid chancellors who are too powerful," clarified the article.

Relatives of Boris Johnson had nicknamed Sajid Javid "Chino", for "Chancellor in name only" – "chancellor only by name" -, added the Financial times, at the beginning of February. But they had ended up calling him "Mr. No" in short, in recent weeks, the disputes multiplying around the future budget, while Mr. Javid tried to preserve a strong budgetary discipline.

"It's historic"

There has been no such surprise resignation of a finance minister since Nigel Lawson, who left Margaret Thatcher's cabinet in 1989, said Guardian Thursday. Downing street "Wanted to take control of the entire operation (of the Chancellery). Sajid didn't know it was coming and he said no " have told relatives of the ex-chancellor at the Times.

The opposition has in any case given it to heart: "It is historic, a government in crisis just two months after taking office. Dominic Cummings clearly won the battle to take absolute control of the Treasury by installing a puppet in the chancellor's chair ”, said John McDonnell, close to Jeremy Corbyn and Chancellor of the Exchequer in his shadow cabinet. Mr. Sunak would have accepted the principle of joint teams between Downing Street and "Number 11" (the chancellery), assured the Telegraph, Thursday. This would be a first: so far, the Ministry of Finance has always enjoyed great autonomy.

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Other departures created controversy on Thursday. Particularly that of Julian Smith, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, much appreciated for his work. In early January, he and the Irish authorities managed to reform the Northern Irish Assembly, the Stormont, which had been paralyzed for three years. He was said to have been thanked for having accepted that veterans of the British army could be prosecuted for abuse during the civil war in Northern Ireland. "We didn't always agree, but his commitment to his position was incredible", greeted Arlene Foster, the leader of the Unionist Party DUP.

“In eight months at his post, Julian helped us to reinstall the Stormont, to find an agreement to avoid a“ hard border ” (in Ireland, after Brexit), and another agreement on same-sex marriage. You are one of the best British politicians. Thank you ", said Leo Varadkar, the outgoing Irish Prime Minister. After this reshuffle, in any case, the Prime Minister rarely had as many powers, with a docile cabinet and a very comfortable majority in the House of Commons.

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