Sajid Javid has resigned as chancellor after Boris Johnson asked him to sack all of his advisers in a move by No 10 to seize control of the Treasury.
Javid has been replaced by his deputy, Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, who is a favourite within No 10.
Javid, who had been in post since last summer, repeatedly clashed with Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, over issues such as restraints on spending.
Speaking outside his home, Javid told reporters he was asked to replace all of his political advisers to stay on in the role. He said: “I was unable to accept those conditions and I do not believe any self-respecting minister would accept those conditions.”
When asked whether the conditions were put forward by Cummings, he
said they were imposed “by the prime minister”. He added: “My successor has my full support as does the prime minister.”
Javid’s resignation letter to Johnson contained a number of parting shots at the No 10 operation led by Cummings. It included a plea for the Treasury to retain its credibility, and a warning that leaders needed to have “trusted teams that reflect the character and integrity that you would wish to be associated with”.
The letter, which Javid posted on Twitter, also stressed the importance of having people around a prime minister that can give “clear and candid advice”.
Javid’s shock departure comes just weeks before he was due to deliver his first budget. Sunak will now take on that responsibility despite having entered parliament less than five years ago.
Johnson sprang the changes on Javid with no warning, leaving the chancellor and his staff shocked. He had proposed that Javid get rid of all his political staff and allow No 10 to create a joint unit pooling special advisers with Johnson.
Downing Street sources suggested the “spad unit” was a way of minimising friction between Numbers 10 and 11, and avoiding the kind of tensions that hampered the Blair government.
“You either go the Blair and Brown way, or you do the George and Dave way,” said a source – referring to the close relationship between George Osborne and David Cameron, who shared an office in opposition, and took the same approach into government in 2010.
It is understood Javid was told most of his current team of advisers would not be considered for roles in the new team, because No 10 believed they had not served him well, and had given him poor advice.
No 10 officials were particularly irritated by what they regarded as a ham-fisted briefing about the HS2 decision, that appeared to play up Javid’s role in approving the project, and pre-empted an official announcement by the prime minister.
Downing Street suggested Sunak, as well as other Johnson favourites Robert Jenrick and Oliver Dowden, were the kind of unshowy, “delivery-focused” ministers the PM wanted to reward.
Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said Javid’s resignation showed that Cummings had “clearly won the battle to take absolute control of the Treasury and install his stooge as chancellor”.
“This must be a historical record, with the government in crisis after just over two months in power,” he said.
There have been bad relations between No 10 and No 11 since Cummings fired Javid’s press secretary, Sonia Khan, in August without consulting him after alleging she was responsible for leaks, which she denied. She had refused to hand over her phone and security escorted her out of the building.
Since then, there have been rows between No 10 and Javid’s team over the Conservatives’ economic policy at the election and the contents of the budget. Javid had been pushing for tighter fiscal rules, while No 10 wanted fewer constraints on spending.
No 10 had always insisted that relations between Javid and Johnson were personally fine, with the prime minister attending the chancellor’s 50th birthday party along with his partner, Carrie Symonds, a former adviser to Javid.
However, tensions have been simmering for months at adviser level, and the longstanding rows ultimately ended in No 10’s attempt to seize political control over the direction of the Treasury.
The other big surprise in the reshuffle was the sacking of Julian Smith as Northern Ireland secretary little over a month after he oversaw the restoration of its devolved assembly and amid a potentially perilous time for the region.
The nationalist SDLP said it showed “Johnson’s dangerous indifference to us”, while the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, called Smith “one of Britain’s finest politicians of our time”.
Other cabinet departures include Andrea Leadsom, the business secretary, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, and Theresa Villiers, the environment secretary.
Leadsom was replaced by the international development secretary, Alok Sharma, who was also made minister responsible for the Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November. Anne-Marie Trevelyan, a defence minister, was promoted to development secretary in his place.
Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office office minister, was sent to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to replace Nicky Morgan, who continued in the job temporarily as a peer after stepping down at the election.
Cox tweeted a letter to Johnson, praising his delivery of Brexit. Villiers posted a Facebook message confirming her departure, beginning: “What the prime minister giveth, the prime minister taketh away.”
One surprise was the sacking of Nusrat Ghani as a junior transport minister. Ghani had been tipped to become the new minister for HS2. She was one of two junior transport ministers sacked. “On my bike,” tweeted the other, George Freeman.
Esther McVey was also removed as housing minister and Chris Skidmore as universities minister, adding to the churn in two roles with a recent history of high ministerial turnover.
Suella Braverman, a former Brexiter minister who resigned over May’s deal, has been appointed attorney general. The former barrister said last year that she wanted a return of “judicial deference” to politicians after the supreme court overturned Johnson’s prorogation of parliament.
George Eustice, an ally of Michael Gove and junior environment minister, was appointed environment secretary. Two cabinet ministers whose jobs had been hanging in the balance – Ben Wallace and Therese Coffey – both managed to hang on.
Brandon Lewis, the security minister, was promoted to Northern Ireland