Johnson is beneficiary of Sunak’s self-inflicted woes - GulfToday

Johnson is beneficiary of Sunak’s self-inflicted woes

John Rentoul


Chief Political Commentator, The Independent; visiting professor, King's College, London.

Chief Political Commentator, The Independent; visiting professor, King's College, London.

Rishi Sunak 55

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has not taken adversity well. He has shown a petulance, and a tendency to blame others for bad news for which only he is responsible.

He should have “seen this slow train coming a long time ago,” as Paul Goodman, a sympathetic Conservative and former MP, put it.

Instead, the chancellor has compared himself to Will Smith, whose wife was also disrespected; he has blamed the Labour Party for “smearing” his wife and his father-in-law “to get at me”; and his “allies” have blamed Boris Johnson for briefing against him, one telling The Daily Telegraph: “It’s all coming from No 10. Rishi’s the only credible show in town.”

It is unedifying, and mostly untrue. Far from smearing anyone, Labour has been asking legitimate questions about the chancellor’s private interests. That they were legitimate was confirmed when Akshata Murty, Sunak’s wife, announced that she would henceforth pay UK tax on her international income.

Nor do I think the prime minister is responsible for the information making its way into the public domain. The common assumption about news stories such as these is that they are the product of a controlling intelligence, part of some tightly knit group’s plan for world domination, when the reality is usually chaos, gossip and journalism.

Anna Isaac, my colleague on The Independent, is a good journalist who has found things out and published them. Johnson may be the biggest beneficiary of Sunak’s troubles, but he didn’t need to do his chancellor down any further to secure his position. The attempt to challenge Johnson’s leadership had already been called off, and Sunak’s standing within the party, as well as with the public, had already collapsed as a result of last month’s ill-judged spring statement.

Indeed, Johnson’s longer-term prospects are hardly helped by refixing in people’s minds the idea that this is a government of rich people whose tax affairs are different from those of the typical voter.

No, the author of Sunak’s disarray is Sunak himself. He knew his wife’s non-dom status was a problem, which is why he didn’t tell more people about it. He claims to have disclosed it to his permanent secretaries as required by the ministerial code, but it seems that senior civil servants in the Treasury didn’t know about it and thought they should have done. He cannot have imagined that he could have fought a leadership election and become prime minister without its becoming public, though, can he?

The prime minister seemed to enjoy getting his own back on Sunak yesterday, when he said that no, he hadn’t known the chancellor’s wife was a non-dom. That was repayment for Sunak’s conspicuously delayed support for Johnson when the prime minister apologised in the Commons for the lockdown parties in Downing Street.

Johnson also said, when he was asked about Sunak’s US green card at a press conference with Germany’s Olaf Scholz: “As I understand it, the chancellor has done absolutely everything he was required to do.” (That was a reference to the chancellor of the exchequer and not the chancellor of Germany, the latest foreign leader to watch, bemused, as British domestic politics interrupted world affairs.) That “as I understand it” was saying in effect that Sunak was safe for now, but that if there are further awkward disclosures, he might not be.

He survives, but he is weakened. A lesser chancellor might have gone — to be replaced by Steve Barclay or Nadhim Zahawi, perhaps — but Johnson needs someone of Sunak’s ability in the cabinet. We can see who might replace Sunak if he fell, but suddenly it is harder than ever to see who could replace Johnson. One of Sunak’s great strengths was that he seemed to be an oven-ready alternative prime minister should his party and his country need one.

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