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Johnson Berated by Javid Over Firing, Stoking Talk of Rift

Jessica Shankleman

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U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid angrily confronted Prime Minister Boris Johnson over the sacking of one of his top aides, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

Javid was furious he hadn’t been consulted -- or even informed -- before Sonia Khan, his media adviser, was sacked. She was escorted out of 10 Downing Street on Aug. 29. As a political appointee, Khan was technically an employee of the prime minister.

The adviser was fired during a meeting with Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser. She was accused of lying about being in contact with former colleagues who are close to Philip Hammond. The ex-finance minister has vowed to do everything in his power to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

The firing is an indication of the control that Cummings is trying to exercise over Johnson’s administration, and Javid’s response reflects the frustration that has been generated elsewhere in government. There’s a long history in British politics of elected politicians clashing with unelected advisers, leading to a saying that political advisers are like poisoners -- they’re either successful or they’re famous.

Critical Juncture

It’s the first public rift between Javid and Johnson, less than two months after they took over their respective roles. Earlier this week, the chancellor’s first major speech was abruptly canceled less than 24 hours before it was due to take place to make way for the announcement from Johnson that he was planning to suspend Parliament.

Javid refused to comment on the sacking in an interview with BBC News on Saturday and said he has a “fantastic” relationship with Johnson.

With two months to go until Britain is due to leave the European Union, and sections of his Conservative Party already in revolt over his strategy, Johnson can ill afford a split within his government.

His move to prorogue Parliament and allow lawmakers less time to mobilize against a no-deal departure has galvanized political opposition to his “do or die” Brexit strategy. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of central London and other cities on Saturday, calling on lawmakers to “Stop the Coup” and “Stop Boris.”

But Johnson’s approach appears to have gone down well with many voters frustrated by the continued stalemate over Brexit. An opinion poll by Survation for the Daily Mail showed his Conservative party has doubled its lead over the opposition Labour party in three weeks.

The relationship between prime minister and chancellor is the central one in most British governments. Margaret Thatcher’s battles with her chancellors helped to hasten her end. Tony Blair’s administration was torn apart by his fights with Gordon Brown, who had once been his closest political friend. Brown, in turn, clashed with his chancellor, Alistair Darling, over spending controls in the wake of the 2008 financial crash. A rare exception was the close alliance between David Cameron and George Osborne.

Since Johnson took office, there has been pressure from his team for big spending announcements. But the Treasury has managed to get a public commitment from Johnson that his government would keep debt falling each year.

Khan declined to comment. A government spokesman also declined to comment on staffing matters.

(Updates with street protests in eighth paragraph.)

--With assistance from Thomas Pfeiffer.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tim Ross at tross54@bloomberg.net, James Amott, Rachel Graham

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