Image Credit: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Since becoming the Leader of the Conservative Party and subsequently the Prime Minister of the UK on 24 July 2019, Boris Johnson made two small reshuffles. First came in September due to the resignations of two Cabinet ministers, Jo Johnson and Amber Rudd. In December, after the Conservative Party’s victory in the general election, another small adjustment was made in response to Alcun Cairns’ resignation. As expected, a major reshuffle of the Cabinet took place after Brexit on 31 January. This time, the scope and impact were far greater.
On 13 February, Johnson’s Cabinet reshuffle led to a shocking result. Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor of the Exchequer. There have been traditional frictions and tensions between Javid and Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings. In August 2019, the relations between No 10 and No 11 became particularly sour. Cummings had fired Javid’s press secretary, Sonia Khan, without his permission nor knowledge. Nonetheless, Javid’s resignation came as a shock as Johnson had given “an absolutely categorical assurance” that he will keep Javid as his chancellor.
Johnson had demanded Javid to fire his team in order to keep his position. Such demand seems to be a move for No 10 to seize more control of the Treasury as Johnson wanted to create a joint unit of special advisers to ensure the two teams worked closer together. However, Javid believed that “no self-respecting minister” could accept such demands and, therefore, he was left with “no option” but to resign. The decision to see Javid leave suggests that they prioritise political control over keeping valued personnel.
Following Javid’s resignation, 39-year-old Rishi Sunak was appointed as the new Chancellor. Sunak, who was previously serving as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was seen as a rising star of the Conservative Party. He campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum, voted for Theresa May’s Brexit deals, and was an early supporter of Johnson’s Conservative Party leadership. During the general election campaign, Sunak stood in for Johnson’s television debates. Some political analysts suggest that the keen Brexiteer is being rewarded by the Prime Minister with a rapid promotion. With the Budget scheduled for 11 March, much attention will be focused on the new chancellor.
Johnson sacked 5 Cabinet ministers, including Julian Smith. The Northern Ireland Secretary was regarded as a key figure in securing cross-party deal to restore the Northern Ireland Executive. Colum Eastwood criticised the decision to dismiss Smith, as showing “dangerous indifference”. In October 2019, Smith described a potential no-deal Brexit as a “very, very bad idea for Northern Ireland”. Some political commentators have suggested that this statement may have led to his dismissal, as it is evident that his political outlook does not align with that of the Prime Minister. Other high profile MPs, such as Andrea Leadsom, Esther McVey and Theresa Villiers, have also lost their positions.
Johnson’s new Cabinet now represents a more diverse range of constituencies. However, in terms of educational background, the opportunities to enter the elites has become more unevenly spread. Over two thirds of the ministers attended independent schools and about half are Oxbridge graduates.