Rishi Sunak says it’s easy to ‘duck difficult decisions’
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The Chancellor did not attend this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, in which Mr Johnson apologised for attending an event in the garden of Downing Street where attendees could bring supplies of alcohol. The Prime Minister issued apologies in various forms a dozen times during the punishing Commons session after a leaked email showed an invitation sent to Downing Street staff.
The invitation said the event aimed to “make the most of the lovely weather” and that staff could “bring your own booze” during the gathering in May 2020 – which the Prime Minister said he “believed implicitly” to be “a work event”.
Mr Johnson offered his “heartfelt apologies”, saying he attended the gathering for approximately 25 minutes to “thank groups of staff” but “with hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside”.
He added: “I should have found some other way to thank them.
“And I should have recognised that, even if it could be said technically to fall within the guidance, there would be millions and millions of people who simply would not see it that way.”
The Prime Minister is now contending with increasingly vocal calls within his party for his resignation, with the Chancellor noticeably silent on the controversy.
He finally acknowledged the Prime Minister’s admission with a brief tweet while on a visit to Ilfracombe, Devon.
Mr Sunak, who is widely considered a leading candidate to one day take over from Mr Johnson, shied away from the Prime Minister’s grilling in the Commons, offering up a single line of commentary in a brief post.
He tweeted: “I’ve been on a visit all day today continuing work on our #PlanForJobs as well as meeting MPs to discuss the energy situation.
“The PM was right to apologise and I support his request for patience while Sue Gray carries out her enquiry.”
Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with the investigation into the claims that Number 10 staff held a party on December 18, 2020, as well as looking into the May 20, 2020, garden gathering.
Bloomberg journalist Therese Raphael responded to the news with scepticism: “Translation: I’ve been watching things carefully from a safe distance. I want to appear loyal while reserving judgment.”
Fellow journalist, and columnist for the i newspaper, Ian Dunt, reacted to Mr Sunak’s tweet with no small amount of sarcasm: “The passion. The commitment. The sheer no-holds-barred authenticity.”
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Another user, @pompey9219, commented: “Even in times of complete political turmoil, you will find politicians sitting on an imaginary fence of political purgatory.”
Others more explicitly questioned how Mr Sunak may be considering potential leadership bids in his brief acknowledgement of this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Mirror, commented: “Sunak’s support for Johnson is so half-hearted it’s funny.”
The Financial Times’ Whitehall editor, Sebastian Payne, wrote that Mr Sunak’s tweet had “no actual endorsement of the Prime Minister”, while former England rugby player Brian Moore pinpointed how Mr Sunak’s plan for jobs may also include plans for his own job – potentially as Tory leader.
Mr Moore tweeted: “I’ll bet he’s planning for one job.”
Mr Johnson is facing condemnation even from within his own party – Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross led demands for Mr Johnson to step down on Wednesday.
Caroline Nokes, chair of the women and equalities committee in the Commons, told Sky News that Mr Johnson should “absolutely” hand in his resignation.
She continued: “He’s damaging us now, he’s damaging the entire Conservative brand.”
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