Boris Johnson's cabinet reshuffle reveals a disturbing determination to control

Boris Johnson engineered a lose-lose situation for Chancellor Sajid JavidBoris Johnson engineered a lose-lose situation for Chancellor Sajid Javid
Boris Johnson engineered a lose-lose situation for Chancellor Sajid Javid
Prime Minister wants to have iron grip on government

BORIS Johnson won a clear victory in December’s general election and is sitting on a Commons majority of 80, with little need to worry about backbench rebellions or rivals nipping at his heels. But that, it seems, is not enough for this prime minister.

After a decade of governments constrained by coalition and narrow or non-existent majorities, he has free rein to do almost whatever he wants, safe in the knowledge that neither the opposition nor dissidents in his own party can do much to challenge him.

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But even such untrammelled power does not satisfy the unendingly ambitious Mr Johnson.

Last week’s reshuffle suggests he will not rest until he has an iron grip on the government in all its aspects.

Sajid Javid became the shortest-serving Chancellor in half a century when he chose to resign rather than accept the prime minister’s demand that he sack his special advisers and agree to a joint economic unit for Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street.

Mr Johnson supposedly told Mr Javid - who is departing without ever having presented a budget - that he wanted him to stay and he was the best man for the job. But it seems fairly clear Mr Johnson and his chief special adviser Dominic Cummings had engineered a lose-lose situation for the Chancellor. Either he stayed and accepted the humiliation of losing his independent team of advisers or he refused and resigned. His replacement, his erstwhile deputy, Rishi Sunak, was appointed within minutes.

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Mr Javid had reportedly annoyed Downing Street by pre-empting the official briefing on support for the HS2 high-speed rail project and was also seen as a potential brake on Mr Johnson’s apparent plans to go on a spending spree on major infrastructure schemes.

Julian Smith, who was unceremoniously sacked as Northern Ireland Secretary despite his impressive achievement in bringing Stormont back into action after three years without devolved government, appears to have been axed because he went against Mr Johnson when he raised concerns about a no-deal Brexit.

Ahead of the brutal reshuffle, Dominic Cummings is said to have warned ministers they risked being sacked or demoted if they were suspected of leaking anything to the media. He has also banned other special advisers from having lunch with journalists. And Number Ten has tried to ban selected journalists from briefings.

But Mr Johnson’s control freakery extends beyond the government’s own ranks.

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The powers of the courts are under challenge following the appointment of Tory MP Suella Braverman to replace Geoffrey Cox as attorney general. Mr Johnson does not like the fact the Supreme Court ruled last year that his prorogation of parliament was unlawful and Ms Braverman has described it as a symptom of “chronic and steady encroachment by the judges” into politics.

The BBC in its current form is under threat as the prime minister and his colleagues move towards doing away with the licence fee, potentially forcing it to adopt a subscription model to keep going.

And the civil service has also been warned it faces “seismic” changes.

A government with a big majority is one thing, but a prime minister who seems determined to assert control over not only his own ministers but crucial national institutions is deeply disturbing.