New details of an alleged row between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson have emerged. It came after Sunak was reportedly talked out of quitting in the wake of the Partygate scandal.
The Prime Minister was among those fined for attending a birthday gathering for the-then Conservative leader Boris Johnson. The gathering broke the Covid regulations at the time.
Now, a new book from The Telegraph political editor Ben Riley-Smith claims Sunak was talked out of resigning from his role as Chancellor of the Exchequer after speaking to Rupert Murdoch executives. Sunak reportedly circulated the wording for his resignation speech among allies.
After being talked out of quitting on April 12, Sunak remained in post until July 5, when he spectacularly quit shortly after Sajid Javid resigned as Health Secretary. It was quickly followed by a host of others that led to the collapse of the Boris Johnson administration.
Riley-Smith claims allies of Johnson say Murdoch became aware of the draft resignation and “personally intervened”. However, the media mogul declined to comment.
While Downing Street officials said Sunak and Murdoch did not talk on the day. They did not however expand on other conversations that allegedly took place between the two.
It also reported that Mr Sunak’s potential resignation was discussed with Mas Siddiqui, an old friend and director at Mr Murdoch’s News Corp. But the paper said that it is unknown whether a message was passed directly to Mr Sunak from Mr Murdoch.
Claims Sunak was going to resign in April are seen as a significant development because it could have been a blow to his leadership ambitions. The now PM would have been cast as a disloyal cabinet member plotting to bring down Johnson.
Waiting until others were ready to walk away from the administration meant this point was neutered. Although the issue did still arise during a leadership election, which eventually saw Liz Truss named as Johnson’s successor.
Sunak however was Truss’s main competitor for the leadership role. And after her 49-day reign, Sunak was eventually appointed as the Prime Minister.
The book from Riley-Smith makes a number of claims about the dying months of Johnson’s administration. He says Sunak asked MPs in the Treasury to back him in a future leadership race in February 2022, five months before Mr Johnson resigned and triggered a contest.
He also claims Johnson was urged to quit by a Downing Street insider friendly with Sunak. Sources are reported quoting the figure as saying “they’re going to get you” or “we’re going to get you”.
Sunak asked MPs in the Treasury to back him in a future leadership race in February 2022, five months before Mr Johnson resigned and triggered a contest.
The book also says Sunak did not speak to Johnson before he announced he was quitting the Cabinet. Although a spokesperson for Johnson told the PA News Agency he did “not recognise the account” of events.
Johnson resigned 48 hours after Javid and Sunak left their roles in the Cabinet. His allies continue to blame the pair for his downfall, although many critics of Johnson say it was his own actions that led to him stepping down.
As well as Siddiqui – who like Sunak has worked for Goldman Sachs and The Children’s Investment Fund Management – Sunak reportedly spoke to Lord Hague and Lord Finkelstein before leaving his job as Chancellor. Lord Hague, the former Tory leader, was the MP for Richmond directly before Sunak, while Lord Finkelstein sometimes attends his preparation sessions for Prime Minister’s Questions.
It is understood Sunak was warned resigning would be considered “politically naive” as it could have led to Johnson having to quit, as they were fined for being at the same event. He was also reportedly warned that being seen as a direct catalyst to ousting the PM would have hampered any future leadership bid.
A spokeswoman for News UK also declined to comment on the claims made in the book. Siddiqui also declined to comment when approached by the Telegraph.