Boris Johnson’s Office Refuses to Deny U.K. PM Suggested Sunak Demotion
(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s office refused to deny he had suggested demoting Rishi Sunak, while downplaying any suggestion of a rift with the U.K. chancellor of the exchequer.
The Sunday Times reported Johnson had mooted making Sunak -- the country’s finance minister -- his next health secretary, in what would in effect be a demotion. According to the newspaper, the remark was made at a meeting on Aug. 2 in front of more than a dozen witnesses, in response to the leaking of a letter from Sunak to Johnson calling for Covid travel restrictions to be eased.
Asked Monday whether Johnson has “full confidence” in the chancellor, his spokesman, Max Blain, told reporters “yes.” But he declined two opportunities to deny the premier had made the reported remark about Sunak’s position.
The relationship between the two most powerful figures in the British government is under particular scrutiny in the pandemic due to their very different philosophies on taxation and spending.
While Johnson is a crowd-pleaser who likes big infrastructure projects, Sunak has repeatedly stressed the need for fiscal restraint after the government spent some 350 billion pounds ($486 billion) fighting Covid-19 and protecting businesses and workers from the effects of successive lockdowns.
“The prime minister and the chancellor have always enjoyed a close and effective working relationship and will continue to do so,” Blain said. “I’m not going to get into internal meetings. You can see particularly during the pandemic, they’ve worked closely together; they’ve been in lockstep throughout this incredibly challenging period for the country.”
Blain also said there are “no plans” for any cabinet reshuffle.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng also said he believes Johnson backs Sunak. “He’s a very collegiate, excellent chancellor and I think everyone in Cabinet -- including the prime minister -- is 100% behind him,” he told Sky News.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.