Is Rishi Sunak facing the axe? The Sunday Times reports this evening that Boris Johnson threatened to sack his chancellor this week during a meeting with No. 10 aides. After a letter Sunak wrote to the Prime Minister arguing for an easing of travel restrictions made its way into last week’s paper, Johnson was left in a rage as to who was behind the leak. In the Monday call, on realising that Sunak was absent, he is alleged to have said:
‘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.’
No-one in No. 10 is denying that Johnson said this. However, some play down the severity of the comments – suggesting it was a joke rather than a plan of action. Yet even if it was meant as a light-hearted comment, the very fact the Prime Minister suggested Sunak could be demoted in a reshuffle points to trouble ahead. For weeks No. 10 and No. 11 have been trying to downplay reports of tension between the pair on spending and beyond. Despite Sunak allies insisting tonight that the Chancellor remains focused on the economy, that will now prove near impossible.
So, what’s gone wrong? While the Prime Minister and Chancellor remain closely aligned on several issues including the easing of Covid restrictions, there a number of factors that have led to a strained relationship. First, the departure of Dominic Cummings and the Vote Leave team and arrival of new Downing Street aides has changed the power dynamic within No. 10 and led to distance between the two sides. The fact that Cummings regularly praises Sunak in public appearances while criticising Johnson hasn’t helped matters.