As the dust settles, it is clear that the big story of the reshuffle is that Boris Johnson has created the most powerful central government operation in living memory. He has yoked together Number 10, the Treasury and the Cabinet Office. As I say in the Sun this morning, no department or agency will be able to resist the power of this new centre.
The rationale behind this move is simple. Boris Johnson’s view is what is the point of being in power if you are not actually in charge. He wants to bring an emphatic end to a decade of weak government. He believes that this new set up is what will enable him to deliver on his manifesto commitments.
Boris Johnson has been determined to avoid a Blair / Brown split. So, he was irked by a series of stories bigging up the power of the Treasury. Opinion in Number 10 was divided about whether these articles were a result of incompetence or malice.
Boris Johnson himself thought that incompetence was to blame and that was why he assumed that Sajid Javid would agree to a joint Number 10 /11 operation. As he put it to Javid in their conversation on Thursday, they needed to make ‘a fresh start’ and stop the bickering between their teams.
But Javid refused, going as far in their second conversation as to suggest that it was Prime Minister’s aide Dominic Cummings who should be dismissed, not all but one of his aides. ‘We weren’t just going to roll over and let them walk all over us’, one ally of Javid’s tells me.
Javid’s refusal to agree to this joint team sealed his fate. Number 10 had been convinced that the Treasury were hiding information from them and Javid’s refusal left them with a sense that they were heading for Blair / Brown style relationship if they didn’t act. There were already problems, according to one Secretary of State: ‘I was being asked by Number 10 to be more ambitious, but Number 11 were then refusing to support it’.
The big challenge for this new centre is Brexit. At the end of this year, Britain’s borders are going to change. In terms of both immigration and trade, it will be the biggest upheaval of the post-war era. Being prepared for this is going to take a monumental effort.
The decision to bring together the three most powerful parts of government is a bold move. It is too early to say whether it will work or not. But given the scale of the challenges this government faces at home and abroad, Boris Johnson is going to need all the muscle that he can get.