Truth behind Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak rift – Tom Richmond

PERSISTENT reports of a Downing Street rift between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak reminded me of John Prescott’s frequent protestations when Labour was last in power.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak remain the subject of a briefing war.

It invariably fell to Prescott, the-then Deputy Prime Minister and Hull East MP, to tour the TV studios and denounce coverage of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s feud as ‘media froth’.

There was a famous episode when Brown accused Blair of stealing his Budget by going on national TV to make a major announcement about NHS funding. It was that dysfunctional.

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By his standards, Prescott actually made a decent fist – pun intended – of this role because it only became clear, once the key players started writing their memoirs after leaving office, that the Blair-Brown relationship was even worse than portrayed at the time.

Boris Johnson (L) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak (C), stand on board a boat on the River Tees on March 4, 2021 in Teesport, England. Teesport has been chosen as one of eight sites for new Freeports in England.

And I suspect history is repeating itself as both Johnson – and his wife Carrie – react to Sunak’s enhanced standing and grasp of detail.

The reason is this. When Sajid Javid resigned as Chancellor in February 2020 because he could not work under the terms set by the PM’s then-adviser, Dominic Cummings, Sunak, MP for Richmond, was promoted to the Treasury top job.

The belief, it was suggested at the time, was that he would be malleable and compliant – certainly from the perspective of a 10 Downing Street regime still basking in the glory of Johnson’s election win in December 2019.

That was, however, just weeks before the Covid-19 pandemic that saw Sunak’s political stock – and standing with the public – rise as he shut down the economy and pioneered ‘furlough’ to prevent mass unemployment.

John Prescott frequently found himself at the centre of the feud between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during the New Labour years.

His confident manner reassured many – and while there will be those who will argue that he could and should have done more – Sunak, despite his slender build, is one of the few heavyweights in a Cabinet of lightweight mediocrity.

And his willingness to stand up to Downing Street behind-the-scenes about the need to balance the books, and not make unaffordable promises, explains some of the recent briefings and the extent to which Johnson is either becoming paranoid or feels threatened by his Chancellor.

This stems from a recent meeting where it is claimed that Johnson contemplated demoting Sunak to the role of Health and Social Secretary – an assertion all the more curious by the fact that the aforementioned Javid was brought back into the fold to fill the post after Matt Hancock’s recent resignation.

Now Downing Street say the story has been ‘overblown’ – a phrase that Prescott used on multiple occasions two decades ago. But the fact that it has not been denied, and Sunak’s team have been at pains to suggest that the Chancellor is focused on the day job (when not at Lord’s for the cricket), leaves three questions.

Team GB swimmer Duncan Scott has again highlighted the importance of local pools.

Just what was Boris Johnson thinking? What does it say about the PM’s own temperament and judgement? And what is the motive of the mystery unidentified individual who was privy to the meeting in question and who then decided to brief the media accordingly?

All I know is that this episode has all the hallmarks of President Donald Trump’s White House when credible politicians were undermined on a whim – and that it rarely ends well in Britain when a Prime Minister and Chancellor find themselves at such loggerheads.

The problem is not Rishi Sunak. It is Boris Johnson – and it is time that the Prime Minister got a grip of Downing Street and those working for him. After all, he can no longer blame Dominic Cummings for such leaks and punching holes into the Government.

DOWNING Street’s daily disarray under Boris Johnson is reflected by the fact that Gavin Williamson – the most inept Education Secretary in living memory – is still in post.

As a former chief whip privy to the secret lives of Ministers and MPs, Williamson has – reportedly – been telling colleagues that he “knows where the bodies are” in a thinly veiled threat to Johnson.

That might be so – but it is no consolation whatsoever to a generation of youngsters, and teachers, who are continuing to be let down by a walking disaster of a politician whose every utterance embarrasses his home county of Yorkshire.

PARTS of Leeds remain in a state of near-paralysis because of multiple roads being dug up by Northern Gas Networks at the same time.

Yet the cumbersome rate of progress, and temporary traffic lights that are a law unto themselves, are forcing some people – certainly on the estate where I live – to use the car as little as possible.

Instead people who would normally drive to the shops, or local amenities, are doing so on foot because it’s quicker and less stressful.

It’s also timely in light of this week’s red alert warning about climate change. The challenge will be encouraging such behaviour to become the norm, and not a one-off, and that will be particularly difficult for a Prime Minister and Government on the side of liberty.

GREAT to hear swimmer Duncan Scott – the first Team GB competitor to win four medals at a single Olympics – back the calls that I’ve been making for local pools to be saved from closure.

Shockingly, there’s no longer a single pool in the area of Scotland where he grew up and, as Scott says, swimming is important for “kids to feel safe and confident in water”.

I agree. Do the powers-that-be across the country if they’re serious about grassroots sport and water safety which can, in certain circumstances, be a matter of life and death?

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