Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak put on show of unity

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Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak put on a show of unity on Monday as they sought to reset the Government away from the “partygate” scandal and onto tackling the health crisis and other challenges facing Britain.

On a visit to the Kent Oncology Centre at Maidstone Hospital, the Prime Minister and Chancellor announced plans to deal with the backlog of cancer treatment which built up during the pandemic.

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But their united front did little to hide the threat to Mr Johnson’s premiership, with Health Secretary Sajid Javid refusing three times to rule out a leadership bid, if there is a contest, and senior Tory Tom Tugendhat stressing the need to end the “personal psychodrama” swirling around the Prime Minister.

With the ongoing Metropolitan Police investigation into 12 parties in No 10 and Whitehall and the full report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the scandal yet to be published, Mr Johnson was seeking to bolster his support among MPs by ordering sweeping changes to his Downing Street operation.

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Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak put on show of unity
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In key developments:

  • The Prime Minister’s new director of policy Andrew Griffith pleaded on the ConservativeHome website with fellow Tory parliamentarians not to “fight amongst ourselves”, pledged No 10 would listen more to backbenchers and said more power would be handed to ministers in “high-performing” departments. He took over the policy role after Munira Mirza quit over Mr Johnson wrongly accusing Sir Keir Starmer, when he was Director of Public Prosecutions, of being personally to blame for Jimmy Savile not being prosecuted.
  • After the storm over booze-fuelled parties in No 10, Mr Johnson’s new director of communications Guto Harri arrived in Downing Street today carrying a Tesco bag, and said he would be giving mineral water and healthy snacks to staff when asked what was the first thing he would do.
  • More changes were expected at the heart of government, including possibly Chief Whip Mark Spencer being replaced. Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay, now also No 10 chief-of-staff, was seeking to get a grip after months of controversies including over parties, the Owen Paterson sleaze storm U-turn, and funding the luxury revamp of the Johnsons’ flat.
  • As MPs returned to the Commons, speculation was flying over how many letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister have been submitted to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench MPs. If he receives 54, it would trigger a vote in Mr Johnson’s leadership. At least 15 Conservative MPs have called publicly for Mr Johnson to go, with uncorroborated estimates of the total number of letters sent ranging from around 30 to the low 50s.
  • Senior Tory MPs jumped to Carrie Johnson’s defence, branding allegations that she has too much influence over decision-making in Downing Street —including in a new book by Tory peer Lord Ashcroft — as sexist and rooted in misogyny.
  • Mr Javid said the NHS recovery plan for England is currently being finalised, with health chiefs being asked to agree to a series of targets in return for extra billions. He also warned that waiting lists would rise higher than six million, before starting to fall.
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With Cabinet ministers having already started jockeying for position, Mr Javid refused three times on Sky News to rule out a leadership bid if the Prime Minister is ousted.

But he insisted on BBC Breakfast that Mr Johnson had his support, adding: “He’s saved this country from Corbynism, he’s delivered on Brexit, we’re getting on with the job of levelling up, he’s delivered the most successful vaccination programme in Europe.”

Mr Sunak has distanced himself from Mr Johnson’s Jimmy Savile attack on Sir Keir and wrote on Friday in The Sun, in what was seen by some at Westminster as the start of unveiling his vision for Britain, that he would not “shirk” difficult decisions. Mr Tugendhat, chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and the first Conservative MP to signal that he would stand for the leadership if there is a contest, proposed tackling the social care crisis through an insurance scheme, rather than the Government’s National Insurance increase which is so unpopular with many Tory MPs.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he added: “This is a time when we need to be really focused on what politics is actually here for and that is serving others and not getting into some sort of personal psychodrama.”

He backed giving Mr Johnson time to see if his “reset” works, adding that “going into a leadership election is hardly ending a psychodrama”.

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