Yesterday evening, Dominic Cummings summoned one of Sajid Javid’s special advisers to a meeting in Downing Street, where she was accused of leaking secrets about No Deal preparations to Philip Hammond, her former employer. When she denied the allegations, Cummings reportedly demanded to see her phone, and a heated exchange followed in which the Spad protested her innocence. She was promptly fired, her security pass removed, and she was escorted out of Downing Street by a police officer.
It now emerges that the Chancellor was not informed of this dramatic move to fire one of his own members of staff, the second of his advisers to be sacked by Cummings. It is the latest and most sensational in a series of moves that combine to visibly undermine Javid’s authority within government.
Earlier this week, Javid’s first major speech on the economy was cancelled 24 hours before he had been due to deliver it in Birmingham. It also seems to have been No 10, rather than the Treasury, that briefed newspapers that the government is considering cutting fuel duty in a forthcoming emergency budget, in a flagrant trespass onto Javid’s policy remit.
Combined with the removal of two of Javid’s choices of advisers, the Chancellor now looks to be in office but not in power, frozen out of key policy decisions at the top of government.
Why is he being undermined? It may well be a coincidence. A paranoid Cummings is waging a ferocious “jihad on spads”, weeding out any advisers he deems insufficiently loyal, and the latest Spads’ firing appears to be a product of suspicions about her social contacts: with Philip Hammond and other anti-No Deal MPs, with another ex-spad suspected (probably incorrectly) of being responsible for the Yellowhammer leak. Other Spads have also been vetoed and sacked, as much a function of their own associations and political leanings, as their minister’s.
As for the announced cut in fuel duty, the leaking of such a move before it becomes policy is often deployed to bounce more reluctant figures into agreeing with it, if it is received well publicly: this could well have been the strategy here, without an explicit aim to undermine Javid. The cancellation of his budget announcement is the most difficult to explain, and the most telling indication that Javid’s personal standing is far down the priority list of the Johnson administration: if there is a loop, Javid does not exactly seem to be in it.
Whether this string of small humiliations is deliberate or not, Javid will soon be prompted to act, or risks haemorrhaging credibility. As anger grows about the sacking of his aide last night, Javid might well be minded to speak up for her, at least privately. Otherwise, he submits to the current power dynamic: a Chancellor beholden to the paranoid whims of an unelected adviser.