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Javid has been replaced by his deputy, Rishi Sunak, the chief secretary to the Treasury, who is a favourite within No 10.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 has been in post since last summer and repeatedly clashed with Johnson’s senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, over issues such as restraints on spending.
His 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.
A source close to Javid said: “He has turned down the job of chancellor of the exchequer. The PM said he had to fire all his special advisers and replace them with No 10 special advisers to make it one team. The chancellor said no self-respecting minister would accept those terms.”
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 advisers with Johnson.
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, with particular annoyance in No 10 that Javid had made it known he was in favour of HS2 before the official announcement.
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 reshufflewas 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.
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.