UK Treasury chief Sajid Javid, a staunch supporter of Israel, resigned Thursday, in a shock development that came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson shook up his Conservative government.
Johnson spent Thursday firing and appointing ministers to key Cabinet posts. Javid’s exit was a surprise as he had been widely expected to keep his job. His resignation follows reports he had clashed with Johnson’s powerful adviser Dominic Cummings.
Johnson was aiming to tighten his grip on government after winning a big parliamentary majority in December’s election. That victory allowed him to take Britain out of the European Union last month, delivering on his key election promise.
Javid had been due to deliver his annual budget next month. His resignation shakes the government as it faces the challenges of negotiating a new relationship with the 27-nation EU by the end of this year.
A Muslim child of Pakistani immigrants who is considered one of Israel’s strongest supporters in the British government, he made a rare visit last year by a foreign dignitary to Jerusalem’s Western Wall and Temple Mount during a three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank. He also met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He has been a member of Conservative Friends of Israel since 2012, and has long campaigned against the boycott Israel movement.
That year, speaking at the pro-Israel group’s annual lunch, Javid stole the show when he delivered a passionate paean to the Jewish state.
“I am a proud, British-born Muslim, and I love my country more than any other place on Earth,” he began, before declaring that, if he had to go and live in the Middle East, he would not choose Dubai, with “its vibrant city life and soaring skyscrapers,” nor Saudi Arabia, “a fabulously wealthy nation and the birthplace of the holy Prophet Mohammed.
“There is only one place I could possibly go,” he continued, “[to] Israel. The only nation in the Middle East that shares the same democratic values as Britain. And the only nation in the Middle East where my family would feel the warm embrace of freedom and liberty.”
At times, Javid appeared to relish the opportunity to stick it to Israel’s opponents. In September 2017, addressing a World Jewish Congress meeting in London, he delivered a none-too-subtle riposte to Palestinian demands that Britain use the 100th anniversary of its adoption to apologize for the Balfour Declaration.
“To apologize for the Balfour Declaration would be to apologize for the existence of Israel and to question its right to exist,” Javid responded. “Here in Britain we will not merely mark the centenary, we will celebrate it with pride.”
He had also overseen initiatives to tackle hate crime, including a project led by the Holocaust Educational Trust, during his two-year stint as communities secretary from 2016-2018.
As home secretary, the post he held before being instated as treasury chief last July, he was responsible in early 2019 for banning Hezbollah, whose political wing had previously been allowed to operate in the UK.
Aside from Javid, several high-profile women in Johnson’s government, including Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers and Housing Minister Esther McVey, all said they had been fired on Thursday morning.
Johnson also sacked Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith — a surprise move. Smith had been widely praised for helping to end political deadlock that left Northern Ireland without a regional government and assembly for three years. After pressure from the British and Irish governments, the main Irish nationalist and British unionist power-sharing parties returned to work last month.
As well as reworking his Cabinet, Johnson needs to appoint a new leader for the UN climate change conference that Britain is due to host later this year. The summit, known as the 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, is scheduled to be held in Glasgow in November.
Planning has got off to a rocky start, with Johnson last week firing Claire O’Neill, a former British government minister appointed last year to head up the event.
Robert Philpot contributed to this report.