Earlier, the Sunday Times cited unnamed sources as saying that Chancellor Rishi Sunak had penned a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in which he claimed that the UK border policy was “out of step with our [Britain’s] international competitors” and failed to take advantage of the successful coronavirus vaccine rollout in the country.
Boris Johnson was irate after details leaked to the media of his private meeting with senior Downing Street aides last week in which he suggested that Rishi Sunak could be demoted, according to The Times.
The Prime Minister reportedly views the leak regarding the Monday meeting, attended by about 20 aides, some at Downing Street and some via Zoom, as a “betrayal”.
However, it was added that Johnson has not ordered a leak inquiry. A government source was cited as saying it would be “pointless” anyway, as such probes typically fall short of their mission to discover the source of any leak.
“I’ve been thinking about it. Maybe it’s time we looked at Rishi as the next secretary of state for health. He could potentially do a very good job there,” the Prime Minister was reported by The Sunday Times to have openly suggested, after the Chancellor called for travel restrictions to be eased in a leaked letter.
Details of the latter were published in the outlet as UK cabinet ministers were due to meet to set the travel rules that will be in place for most of August.
The newspaper cited unnamed sources as saying that Sunak wrote to Johnson, claiming that the UK border policy was “out of step with our [Britain’s] international competitors”.
A source was cited in The Times as saying “Rishi has called time on the travel restrictions”. Another underscored Sunak’s concerns that the government had “got the benefit from vaccinating so many people and yet” it is “an outlier in terms of how draconian” London is “about travel”.
During the subsequent Monday meeting with aides Johnson was described as having been “apopleptic”, “raging” or “f***ing tonto”.
“In an open meeting, after ranting about Rishi, he then suggested the chancellor could be demoted in the next reshuffle,” a senior government source was cited by the outlet as saying. However, it was added that those present at the meeting did not expect Johnson to carry out his threat of sacking the Chancellor, as the PM was prone to making unscripted remarks made “half in jest”.
Rishi Sunak’s letter to the Prime Minister is said to have been sent several days before its contents were leaked in The Sunday Times. The blunder has since been blamed on No 10 Downing Street staff, who are believed to have failed to draw the memo to Johnson’s attention.
No 10, No 11 Tensions
After the outlet reported about Boris Johnson’s remarks targeting Sunak, the Chancellor’s allies were quick to respond. One source was quoted as suggesting the Conservative Party could “get rid” of Johnson.
“People are getting sick of it. Once he starts to look like more of a liability than an asset we’ll just get rid. If he becomes a political liability, why would we hold on to him? We can’t be sentimental about it.”
Sir Craig Oliver, formerly director of communications during the Downing Street tenure of David Cameron, was cited as urging both Johnson and Sunak to “park their egos” and work together. He also cautioned that leaked briefings were “the road to ruin for governments”.
Many sources suggested that Johnson and Sunak , who is facing the challenge of repairing public finances amid the pandemic, were at odds over how to fund social care and the “levelling-up” agenda embraced by the Tory leader.
Johnson has repeatedly vowed there will be no return to austerity.
Meanwhile, a poll of Tory members by the Conservative Home website published on 2 August showed Rishi Sunak to be a clear front-runner for next Tory Leader. The Chancellor has also returned a consistently high score from the panel when asked about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
On 6 August a ConservativeHome Cabinet League Table saw Boris Johnson plunge to almost the bottom with a net satisfaction of 3.4 points out of 100. Sunak was on 74.1. The Sunday Times cited a Whitehall source as suggesting that Johnson would “be looking at the heir apparent [Sunak] and worrying”.
POLL – Boris Johnson’s satisfaction rating among conservatives plummets
In the latest monthly “Cabinet League Table” poll by ConservativeHome, Johnson scored a mere 3.4 points, 35.8 points lower than the previous month and 52.2 points lower than two months ago. pic.twitter.com/qARrMf37UT
— The Stark Naked Brief. (@StarkNakedBrief) August 4, 2021
Bridget Phillipson, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said that amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges requiring immediate attention, “[Johnson is] busy picking fights with his own government.”
Downing Street officials offered a comment underscoring that Johnson had full confidence in Sunak.
“The prime minister and the chancellor have always enjoyed a close and effective working relationship, and will continue to do so. I happen to think the PM and chancellor get on very well generally. They are both very good . . . there are always disagreements. There is always going to be a slight creative tension between No 10 and No 11,” Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, stated on BBC Radio 4’s “Today”.