Rishi Sunak bails on interview to avoid fully backing Boris ‘partygate’ Johnson

Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has refused to give his unequivocal backing to Boris Johnson as the threat to the prime minister’s leadership grows over partygate allegations.

Trouble at the top

The potential successor as Tory leader abruptly ended an interview on 18 January when pressed if he gives his full support to his boss. He instead said he believes Johnson is telling the truth and backs his request for “patience” during a Whitehall investigation by senior official Sue Gray.

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So far six Conservative MPs have publicly called for Johnson to go amid widespread public anger over claims of lockdown-breaching parties in No 10. Jeremy Hunt said in an interview that his ambition to lead the party has not “completely vanished”. Former aide to the PM Dominic Cummings has expressed the opinion that a “leadership contest is imminent”:

Cummings has also claimed that Johnson lied to Parliament over the parties. Downing Street denies this, but appeared to accept that he would have to resign if he “knowingly” misled the House of Commons.

In his first interview since Johnson’s apology to MPs over the scandal, the chancellor said he accepts his explanation that he was not warned in advance about a No 10 drinks party during lockdown in May 2020. He told broadcasters:

Of course I do. The Prime Minister set out his understanding of this matter last week in Parliament. I refer you to his words.

Sue Gray is conducting an inquiry into this matter and I fully support the Prime Minister’s requests for patience while that concludes.

Asked if the PM should resign if he lied to Parliament, Sunak said:

I am not going to get into hypotheticals, the ministerial code is clear on these matters.

Pressed on whether Johnson had his unequivocal support, Sunak swiftly broke off the interview, walking off with a microphone still attached.

The chancellor’s hours of silence after Johnson’s apology to the Commons last Wednesday over the 20 May 2020 “bring your own booze” garden gathering in No 10 has been seen as conspicuous.

Meanwhile, a potential Sunak premiership is already drawing criticism:

An enthusiastic Hunt

Hunt, who has served as both foreign and health secretary (and has at times been the “most disliked frontline British politician”), discussed not having given up hope to become Tory leader. The House magazine said he denied actively considering a run, before adding:

I won’t say my ambition has completely vanished, but it would take a lot to persuade me to put my hat into the ring.

Sunak and foreign secretary Liz Truss are seen as the frontrunners for any challenge to the prime minister. Sunak is a billionaire former banker; Truss has long been ridiculed for what News Letter referred to as an “odd speech” in which she was “enraged by imported cheese but overjoyed at pork markets”.

Hunt was the strongest opponent against Johnson when he won the leadership in 2019, coming second before being comfortably beaten.

While only six Tories have publicly called for Johnson to quit, many more are believed to have privately written letters calling for a vote of no confidence. One route to a Tory leadership contest is for 54 letters to be submitted by MPs to chair of the 1922 Committee of Conservatives Graham Brady, though he keeps the running total a closely guarded secret.

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  • Show Comments
    1. Just emailed this to all Govt party leaders today 19.1.2022

      So now we voter should be asking all the Tory M.P. Minister alike under Boris now why they are protecting his backside just to keep their jobs as Minister and the good pay that come with it
      Also, we should be asking the police if they are seeking to fine all staff involved in the parties at No,10 as we public got fined and threatened with imprisonment as well by some Police forces in U.K.
      No matter what the outcome of the Tory investigation is will they all be fined yes or no? Ms Petal -Ms Dicks (they should) and Tory Govt should return all the people money paid them in fines over L-Down rules.
      None of Tory party member can be trusted now if they back Boris to keep his job as their leader as trust with us voter has gone so all Tory party member in my opinion will be or should be tarred with the same S**t BRUSH as Boris for lying to us plus breaking his own rules on Lock -Down if you Tory M.P.+ Minister defend his action you are no better than him he broke the law full stop!
      The investigation is a waste of taxpayer money now has Boris will and can BIN all the finding to soot his outcome he wishers by hiding the truth from us public Tory party members he gets the final say WHY?
      We free voter think someone outside of Govt should have investigated this very important matter not a Tory party supporter of Boris.

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