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February 15, 2020

PM’s decision to rein in chancellor defended

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P
Pa
February 15, 2020

LONDON: 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 Johnson’s top team after he was ordered to fire his closest aides and replace them with advisers chosen by Number 10.

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 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 Sunak would be Johnson’s “puppet” after acceding to his demand for more control, calling his colleague “one of the most talented people in politics today”.

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 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”.

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. 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 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.