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British Finance Minister quits in reshuffle upset

Sajid Javid's departure a major upheaval at turbulent time for Britain

LONDON: British Finance Minister Sajid Javid resigned yesterday, in a shock move that deals a blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government just weeks after Brexit and a month before the annual Budget.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer stood down after Mr Johnson tried to use a reorganisation of his Cabinet to get rid of some of Mr Javid's aides, a source close to Mr Javid said.

He was immediately replaced by senior treasury official Rishi Sunak.

Mr Javid's departure is a major upset at a turbulent time for Britain, just weeks after leaving the European Union on Jan 31, a process that has left the country with an uncertain future.

Mr Johnson was carrying out a Cabinet reshuffle yesterday, his first since winning a comfortable parliamentary majority in the December general election.

Mr Javid, a former City of London banker born into a working-class Muslim family, was considered safe in his job despite reports of tensions between him and Mr Johnson's senior aide, Mr Dominic Cummings.

But rumours began to circulate after his meeting with Mr Johnson went on longer than expected.

"He has turned down the job of chancellor of the exchequer," a source close to Mr Javid said.

"The Prime Minister said he had to fire all his special advisers and replace them with Number 10 special advisers to make it one team. The Chancellor said no self-respecting minister would accept those terms."

Earlier, Mr Johnson sacked his Northern Ireland Secretary despite his role in restoring devolved government to Belfast after a three-year suspension last month.

Mr Julian Smith had helped end the political vacuum in Northern Ireland by persuading the two main parties to return to a power-sharing government.

It had no government since Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) fell out in January 2017 over a renewable energy scandal.

PRAISE

Irish leader Leo Varadkar led tributes to Mr Smith's efforts, saying he was "one of Britain's finest politicians of our time".

But The Times said Mr Johnson felt "blindsided" by the deal because it includes an investigation into alleged crimes by British soldiers during decades of sectarian violence known as The Troubles.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who was closely involved in the talks, said without Mr Smith's leadership there would be no government in Belfast.

"You have been such an effective secretary of state for Northern Ireland at a time of real challenge and risk," he tweeted.

Ms Arlene Foster, who as DUP leader was restored as first minister of Northern Ireland under the deal, also hailed his "dedication to the role".

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox were also shown the door.

Foreign Minister Dominic Raab and Mr Michael Gove, Mr Johnson's de facto deputy, are staying. - AFP

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