So it has started. The joint resignation of Rishi Sunak and Sajid Javid marks a cabinet coup against Boris Johnson, seeking to remove him without the need for a parliamentary revolt. ‘This will be a cabinet thing, not a party thing,’ one minister told me earlier: ‘Someone will have to resign, then others will be faced with a choice.’ That someone turned out to be Javid, who quit as Health Secretary this evening with Sunak following 20 minutes later. Johnson is in survival mode, telling Tory MPs that ‘cutting taxes now somewhat easier” now that debt-averse Sunak has gone. Within hours, Nadhim Zahawi – who has a more elastic view about borrowing limits – was named the new Chancellor.
Zahawi’s appointment came after an all-out campaign to find loyalists, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg who says voters chose Johnson as PM so Cabinet members cannot dethrone him. Michael Gove wants Johnson gone – but knifed him once before and feels he can’t do so again. George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, may be next to quit.
A Chancellor resigning is bad enough but quitting along with the Health Secretary – not co-ordinated, we’re told – makes this a double blow that Johnson will struggle to survive. He may make it through the week, perhaps even the summer, but from this moment I suspect he is mortally wounded. In his letter, Sunak said that he firmly believes ‘that the public are ready to hear the truth’ – suggesting they have been hearing something other than the truth to date from the Prime Minister. He also points to longstanding tension between them, saying he has supported Johnson publicly even though they differ privately. It’s an open secret that Sunak despairs at Johnson’s spending profligacy and thought this laughably irreconcilable with any hopes for low taxes.