February 14, 2020 12:52:00 PM
Boris Johnson’s decision to impose tight restrictions on his new Chancellor has been defended as his new-look Cabinet met for the first time.
The Prime Minister’s reshuffle was dominated by Sajid Javid’s decision to quit Mr Johnson’s top team after he was ordered to fire his closest aides and replace them with advisers chosen by Number 10.
Mr Javid accused the PM of setting conditions “any self-respecting minister” would reject – seen as a thinly veiled swipe at his successor, Rishi Sunak.
But Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said Mr Johnson was the sole person in charge of shaping how his top tier of ministers functioned.
“The Prime Minister is very much in charge. He chooses the top team and how they are structured,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“We in Government are completely focused on getting things done, delivering on the priorities of the public – not on special advisers or how Government is run internally.”
He denied that Mr Sunak would be Mr Johnson’s “puppet” after acceding to his demand for more control, calling his colleague “one of the most talented people in politics today”.
Mr Sunak smiled at photographers as he entered Downing Street for the Cabinet meeting at 10.30am but did not take questions from reporters.
Chief Whip Mark Spencer, also quizzed on his way into Number 10, was asked if Mr Javid had been forced out of the Cabinet.
He replied “No”, before adding: “It’s new a Government.”
The PM engaged in a call and response with his new team at Friday morning’s Cabinet meeting, asking: “How many hospitals are we going to build?” before they replied in unison: “Forty.”
The pledge has been criticised after it emerged that, while £2.7 billion has been allocated to six hospital trusts for building projects for completion by 2025, the other 34 projects for delivery by 2030 have so far just been promised £100 million of “seed funding”.
Mr Johnson also asked the Cabinet how many more police officers would be recruited, to which they replied 20,000.
However, the number of police officers in England and Wales has fallen by around 20,000 since 2010.
Mr Javid had no words of animosity for the PM on Friday, as he faced up to being excluded from a Cabinet meeting for the first time in almost five years.
Asked by reporters as he left his south-west London home whether he had a message for Mr Johnson, the ex-business secretary answered: “Happy Valentine’s Day.”
His bombshell resignation – less than a month before the Budget – followed an escalation in tensions between the ex-chancellor and the Prime Minister’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.
In August, Mr Cummings fired Mr Javid’s aide, Sonia Khan, and it appeared Number 10 wanted to go further in keeping a close eye on him, a move that had been preceded by Treasury briefings to the press about his support for HS2 and talk of a mansion tax in the forthcoming Budget.
Ex-staff and colleagues of the former home secretary said he had little choice but to resign following Number 10’s tightening of the reins.
Salma Shah, a former aide to Mr Javid, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that not being able to choose his own political advisers would have been “incredibly detrimental to his decision-making power” in office.
And Mel Stride, chairman of the Commons Treasury Committee, said: “I think he, probably more by accident than design, was put into a position where it was extremely difficult for him to swallow that and move on.”
Downing Street has so far refused to guarantee that next month’s Budget will go ahead as scheduled, with a spokesman saying only that “extensive preparations have already been carried out for the Budget and they will continue at pace”.
Julian Smith, who was sacked as Northern Ireland secretary despite helping to get Stormont up and running after three years of deadlock, said his post-ministerial plans involved going to the pub.
The ex-chief whip told Sky News: “I think my future plans involve things like going to the pub and I’m now going to my constituency.
“I wish the new Cabinet and new Secretary of State all the best of luck.”
The number of women attending Cabinet fell as part of the changes, from eight to seven, while the total number of ministers attending shrank from 32 to 26.
Alok Sharma was promoted to Business Secretary and he will also be minister for the COP26 UN climate summit, which is due to take place in Glasgow in November.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan joined the Cabinet after picking up Mr Sharma’s previous role as International Development Secretary, having previously been a defence minister.
Oliver Dowden became a full Cabinet member as Culture Secretary, having previously attended the meetings as paymaster general, and George Eustice was promoted to Environment Secretary from his previous role in the same department.
Brandon Lewis was appointed Northern Ireland Secretary, while former Brexit minister Suella Braverman returned to the Government as Attorney General.
Ex-Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay has replaced Mr Sunak as Treasury Chief Secretary.
Amanda Milling was made Conservative Party chairwoman – a role in which she will attend Cabinet as a minister without portfolio.
Former defence secretary Penny Mordaunt returns to Government as Paymaster General in the Cabinet Office.