The former chancellor Sajid Javid has delivered a sharp indictment of the government, saying plans to centralise the team of advisers serving No 10 and the Treasury were “not in the national interest”.
Javid issued his dramatic statement to MPs in the Commons at the first prime minister’s questions session since the reshuffle on 13 February, as Boris Johnson sat and listened.
Javid quit as chancellor after he was told to sack his team of advisers because the government planned to merge No 10 and the Treasury into one operation. “Advisers advise, ministers decide, and ministers decide on their advisers,” he told the Commons.
He said he did not want to reflect on individuals behind his decision to stand down, but added, with a dramatic pause. “The comings and goings, if you will.”
The word “comings” was interpreted by MPs around him as a clear reference to Johnson’s top adviser, Dominic Cummings, the former campaign director of Vote Leave who has been working for the prime minister since the summer.
Cummings is said to want to bring Downing Street and the Treasury together to give No 10 more control over spending plans, the economy and budget policies.
Javid, who described himself as a low-tax Conservative and fiscally cautious, is rumoured to have clashed with No 10 over its promised spending commitments following the securing of an 80-seat majority at the general election.
He said the departmental restructure proposed in the reshuffle, which involved the sacking of his staff, was a threat to the autonomy and decision-making role of the office of chancellor.
Speaking from the backbenches for the first time in eight years, he said: “When reflecting on the dynamic between No 10 and No 11, it is natural to look at past relationships. There is no one size that fits. Any model that works or doesn’t depends on the personalities that are involved just as much as the processes.
“It depends on the mutual respect and trust that allows for constructive, creative tension between teams. It is that dynamic that it has always been the case that advisers advise, ministers decide, and ministers decide on their advisers.
“I couldn’t see why the Treasury, with the vital role that it plays, should be the exception to that. A chancellor, like all cabinet ministers, has to be able to give candid advice to a prime minister so he is speaking truth to power.
“I believe that the arrangement proposed would significantly inhibit that and it would not have been in the national interest.”
He said it was core to Conservative party values that “no particular person, or even a government, has a monopoly on the best ideas”. “So while I was grateful for the continued trust of the prime minister in wanting to reappoint me, I’m afraid these were conditions I could not accept in good conscience,” he said.
The former chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond in North Yorkshire, was promoted to chancellor after Javid’s departure, and will deliver the budget on 11 March.
Javid said: “I very much hope that the new chancellor will be given the space to do his job without fear or favour. I know this: that my right honourable friend for Richmond is more than capable of rising to the challenge.”
On the fiscal rules, Javid said: “To govern is to choose. And these rules crystallise the choices that are required: to keep spending under control, to keep taxes low, to root out waste, and to pass the litmus test, rightly set in stone in our manifesto, of debt being lower at the end of the parliament.”
However, the prime minister’s official spokesman repeatedly refused to rule out changing the fiscal rules that Javid unveiled at the election.
He would only say that the UK would “continue to have a clear fiscal framework”, giving a clear hint that borrowing rules could be loosened at the budget in defiance of Javid’s warnings.