Rishi Sunak ‘takes swipe’ at Boris Johnson

The chancellor distanced himself from PM over false Starmer accusation

Rishi Sunak
Sunak said he would not have made the same comments as the party-going PM
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Rishi Sunak has increased speculation that he is planning a leadership challenge against Boris Johnson after he distanced himself from the prime minister’s claim earlier this week that Keir Starmer was responsible for not prosecuting the paedophile Jimmy Savile.

In an “extraordinary step”, said The Times, the chancellor took a “swipe” at the prime minister, rebuking him for his comments. “Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it, and I’m glad that the prime minister clarified what he meant,” Sunak said.

The Guardian said it was the “clearest indication yet” that Sunak is “distancing himself from his beleaguered boss” and “has his eyes on the prize” of No. 10.

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“Sunak didn’t say much,” reported Heather Stewart, the paper’s political editor, but “he didn’t have to”. His comments are “bound to be read by some of his colleagues” as “the strongest signal yet he may believe it is now time to act”.

Later, Sunak told the BBC that the controversy about Downing Street parties has damaged public trust in the government. “I can appreciate people's frustration,” he added. But he said Johnson had his “full support” and played down talk of a leadership challenge.

The chancellor’s remarks came amid upheaval in Downing Street as four senior aides to Johnson resigned within hours of each other, during what the Financial Times described as a “day of chaos”.

Policy chief Munira Mirza, who has been at Johnson’s side for 14 years including his time as mayor of London, left because of what she described as the prime minister’s “scurrilous” remarks about Starmer. Sunak said he would “miss working with Munira”, who he described as a “valued colleague”.

Three staff embroiled in the lockdown parties row – including chief of staff Dan Rosenfield – also quit yesterday. According to reports, they have been followed out of the door by a fifth person this morning.

Paul Goodman, a former MP, now editor of the blog Conservative Home, tweeted that Elena Narozanski has also departed. Narozanski, who worked in Mirza’s policy unit, was a special adviser to the PM on women and equalities, DCMS and extremism.

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