Barclay named health secretary and Zahawi becomes chancellor as resignations continue

Barclay's successor as Cabinet Office minister yet to be named
Steve Barclay, the PM's chief of staff and Cabinet Office minister, has replaced Sajid Javid as health secretary. Photo:

Boris Johnson has chosen Stephen Barclay to replace Sajid Javid as health secretary and Nadhim Zahawi to replace Rishi Sunak as chancellor.

Barclay, who was Cabinet Office minister and the PM's chief of staff, succeeds Javid who spectacularly resigned yesterday in protest against the prime minister's leadership. His successor at the Cabinet Office has yet to be named.

Johnson was last night forced into a mini reshuffle of senior cabinet positions after Javid and Sunak quit. The pair resigned amid widespread fury in the Conservative Party with how the PM had handled the Chris Pincher scandal.

Johnson has chosen Zahawi to take over as chancellor after Rishi Sunak handed in his resignation, saying he said the public expected government business to be "conducted properly, competently and seriously". 

Michelle Donelan will replace Zahawi as education secretary. 

He had only taken up the job in September, after leading the UK's vaccine programme during the Covid-19 pandemic. A former refugee from Iraq, Zahawi was co-founder of polling company YouGov before being elected as the MP for Stratford-on-Avon in 2010.

In his resignation letter to Boris Johnson, Sunak said: "To leave ministerial office is a serious matter at any time. For me to step down as chancellor while the world is suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, the war in Ukraine and other serious challenges is a decision that I have not take lightly.

"However, the public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning."

It comes amid fury within the Conservative Party over the PM's handling of the case of Chris Pincher, the Tory MP who resigned as a deputy chief whip last week after being accused of groping two men.

In his response to Sunak, Johnson failed to address any of the criticisms of his leadership.

"Dear Rishi, I was sorry to receive your letter resigning from the government," he wrote.

"You have provided outstanding service to the country through the most challenging period for our economy in peacetime history".

A steady drip of resignations from the government continues, with solicitor general Alex Chalk announcing he was quitting his frontbench role because he could not longer "defend the indefensible" and believed it was time for "fresh leadership".

"To be in government is to accept the duty to argue for difficult or even unpopular policy positions where that serves the broader national interest. But it cannot extend to defending the indefensible."

"The cumulative effect of the Owen Paterson debacle, Partygate and now the handling of the former deputy chief whip's resignation, is that public confidence in the ability of No.10 to uphold the standards of candour expected of a British government has irretrievably broken down."

He added: "I regret that I share that judgement. This comes at a moment of intense challenge for our country, when trust in government can rarely have been more important. I'm afraid the time has therefore come for fresh leadership."

Conservative MP Virginia Crosbie, a parliamentary private secretary in the Wales Office also quit she was stepping down because she believed Johnson risks "irrevocably harming this government and the Conservative Party".

"Sadly, I am forced to say that the sheer number of allegations of impropriety and illegality - many of them centred around Downing Street and your premiership - is quite simply making your position untenable," she wrote in her resignation letter.

"I am of the view that if you continue in office then you risk irrevocably harming this government and the Conservative party and will hand the keys of Downing Street to a Labour Party unfit to govern."

She added she "cannot continue to defend your actions" to her constituents who she claimed were "rightly very angry".

"I have no idea what is happening at Downing Street but it appears you are either badly advised or unable to change or reform the dysfunctional operation at the centre of the government you lead."

Jonathan Gullis, Saqib Bhatti and Nicola Richards have also resigned as PPS, while Bim Afolami has quit as the Conservative party's vice chairman. 

Adam Payne is political editor and John Johnston is a reporter for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared

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