Johnson vs Sunak: Tory infighting as PM’s ‘rift’ with Chancellor to become ‘irreparable’

Partygate: Boris Johnson held to scrutiny over pictures

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Boris Johnson will respond to the latest so-called ‘Partygate’ allegations today at Prime Minister’s Questions. It comes as the Prime Minister was pictured appearing to break his Government’s COVID-19 rules at a Downing Street party. The photos, published by ITV News on Monday, show the Tory leader appearing to toast colleagues with a glass of fizz at a gathering with food and alcohol.

At the time the bash was held, November 13, 2020, only two people from different households could mix and England was in lockdown due to a spike in Covid cases.

Adding to tensions, the long-awaited report into a string of parties held at Downing Street by civil servant Sue Gray is expected to be released today, after which the Prime Minister will deliver a statement and address MPs at the Conservative Party’s 1922 Committee.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is also set to meet with Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak today to sign off a multi-billion-pound financial package to ease the cost of living crisis for millions of struggling families.

Another Government response to the crisis had not been expected until later this year, but Ofgem chief Jonathan Brearley has announced that the UK’s energy price cap – the maximum rates suppliers can charge for their default tariffs – is expected to rise in October to around £2,800, an increase of over £800.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor’s meeting is likely to be a tense encounter, if recent claims that they have fallen out are to be believed.

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A string of reports over the past weeks and months have claimed that all is not well between Number 10 and its neighbour, Number 11.

Downing Street has denied a rift between Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, who has been tipped as the Prime Minister’s potential successor.

Part of the disagreement between them is reportedly over the cost of living crisis and the Chancellor’s reluctance to intervene.

In his Spring Statement in March, Mr Sunak failed to increase benefits payments to help families trying to make ends meet, focusing instead on other measures, such as tax cuts and helping with bills.

The Prime Minister is opposed to the Chancellor’s refusal to spend more to resolve the crisis, according to an article by Robert Peston for The Spectator.

He wrote: “Sunak – not by explicit policy but by refusing to offset the damage of inflation – is returning the UK to austerity.

“Which is completely counter to everything Boris Johnson claims to want or to represent.

“If the relationship between him and the Chancellor was bad before the Spring Statement, I would now expect the rift to become almost irreparable.”

Other tensions between the two men are said to be down to the recent revelation by The Independent that Mr Sunak’s multi-millionaire wife Akshata Murty claims non-domicile status, meaning she is not liable for UK tax on her foreign earnings.

The Chancellor hit out at the reports about his wife as “smears”, while some of his allies were reported to think Downing Street was involved in the damaging story.

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Number 10 denied claims that its staff are leaking information about the Chancellor to newspapers.

Former Labour minister Chris Mullin has compared Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak’s relationship to that of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Chancellor Gordon Brown.

Details about the two men’s fractious new Labour partnership were leaked to the press by insiders.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Mullin referred to Mr Sunak’s hesitancy to back Mr Johnson over Partygate in January.

He wrote: “His apparently lukewarm support for the Prime Minister during his troubles over ‘Partygate’ was widely noticed and talked about.”

Mr Sunak initially did not join a string of ministers in defending the Prime Minister after he admitted attending a Covid rule-busting event at Downing Street.

However, the Chancellor eventually gave Mr Johnson his backing and later told Sky News: “The Prime Minister has my total support.”

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