Johnson has strengthened his cabinet by choosing Javid to replace Hancock

Johnson was reluctant to sack a minister over a personal indiscretion, but it became clear Conservative MPs were unwilling to back Hancock

Sajid Javid: his   return means that chancellor Rishi Sunak is no longer the only plausible successor to Johnson around the cabinet table. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Sajid Javid: his return means that chancellor Rishi Sunak is no longer the only plausible successor to Johnson around the cabinet table. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

 

Twenty-four hours before Matt Hancock resigned on Saturday, Downing Street was saying that Boris Johnson had full confidence in him and regarded the matter of the former health secretary’s rule-breaking embrace of an aide as closed. Johnson’s contempt for the press as a former journalist and his own disorderly personal life made him reluctant to sack a minister over a personal indiscretion.

But it soon became clear that Conservative MPs were unwilling to back Hancock, the loudest cheerleader for the harshest lockdown measures, now that he had been exposed for breaking rules he had himself written.

The Hancock affair follows controversies over the government’s decision to allow visiting football bigwigs and other VIPs to avoid quarantine ahead of Euro2020 matches at Wembley and scenes from the G7 meeting in Cornwall that showed Johnson and other world leaders apparently ignoring social distancing during a barbecue on the beach.

Johnson’s initial backing of Hancock may have tried his backbenchers’ patience and offered Labour a fresh opportunity to question the prime minister’s judgement. But by choosing Sajid Javid to replace Hancock, Johnson has significantly strengthened his cabinet without taking the political risk of a reshuffle.

An able administrator with a grasp of detail and experience across a number of government departments, Javid resigned as chancellor of the exchequer last year rather than allow Dominic Cummings to choose his advisers. A friend of Johnson’s wife Carrie, who was his special adviser during Theresa May’s government, Javid remained loyal to Johnson while on the backbenches.

“So Carrie appoints Saj!” Cummings tweeted on Saturday evening, adding that he had “tricked” Johnson into sacking Javid as chancellor. Javid’s return is further evidence of Johnson’s retreat from the Vote Leave faction around Cummings, most of whom have already left Downing Street.

Plausible successor

Javid’s return means that chancellor Rishi Sunak is no longer the only plausible successor to Johnson around the cabinet table. But as tensions between Downing Street and the Treasury over spending become more public, Javid is also a plausible successor to Sunak.

The new health secretary faces formidable challenges, including the appointment of a new head of the National Health Service as it struggles to deal with the treatment backlog built up during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the first issue facing Javid is whether to proceed with the next stage of reopening on July 19th, despite the rise in cases driven by the Delta variant.

As a backbencher, Javid spoke up for businesses struggling under lockdown restrictions, and he is likely to join Sunak in arguing for the reopening to go ahead as planned. 

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