Ministers rebuked by Boris Johnson for ‘frippery' amid battle over use of Chevening country house

© Getty

The 17th-century manor house Chevening has been used by foreign secretaries since the 1980s

– Getty

Boris Johnson has dismissed a row between two of his most senior cabinet colleagues over the use of the country house Chevening as “frippery” which would not distract him from his policy priorities.

The 17th-century Kent manor is traditionally used as the country retreat for the foreign secretary, in a similar way to the prime minister’s Chequers getaway in Buckinghamshire.

But outgoing foreign secretary Dominic Raab is refusing to hand it over to his successor Liz Truss, arguing that his new title of deputy prime minister entitles him to hold onto it.

The final decision rests with Mr Johnson, who made clear he has not yet decided who will get to use the 15-bedroom property, which sits in extensive parkland near Sevenoaks.

Asked if Raab or Truss would get the house, or whether they would be asked to share it, Mr Johnson responded: “The people’s government does not bother with fripperies and foibles of this kind. These types of questions, we will address in due course. But as I say, we are focused on people’s priorities.”

Speaking to reporters on his trip to the US, Mr Johnson also dodged questions over his reported ambition to serve 10 years as prime minister.

“Our eyes are focused on the task ahead and anybody who thinks that they can predict what will happen further down the track is really, you know…” he said when the reported comment was put to him.

“What this government wants to do is get on with delivering the people’s priorities, get on with delivering our manifesto commitments,” he added. “We got Brexit done, we have got the fastest vaccine rollout in Europe and we are dealing with some of the big things that have been neglected for decades, not least social care and the cruelty of the current system. We have got a big agenda we are getting on with.”

He gave similarly short shrift to suggestions that he may bring the next general election, scheduled for 2024, forward to 2023 or even 2022.

“We are focused absolutely resolutely and implacably on the task in hand and in delivering on our manifesto commitments; making the country safer – putting more police on the streets – building more hospitals; fixing social care; uniting and levelling up across the country,” he replied.

“I think one thing people got right in their brilliant interpretations of the reshuffle is that we attach massive significance towards what Michael Gove is doing in his new department and I would also draw your attention to the appointment of Andy Haldane (as head of the levelling up taskforce). He won’t be there forever, but he’s got a lot to offer and again a signal of the seriousness to which we attach this mission of levelling up.”

The home of the earls of Stanhope for generations, Chevening was passed on to a trust in 1959 to serve as a country residence for a royal or a cabinet member nominated by the PM.

Since the 1970s, the house has almost always been occupied by the foreign secretary, though Nick Clegg shared it with William Hague during his time as DPM from 2010-15.

During his stint as foreign secretary, Mr Johnson was required by Theresa May to share occupancy with international trade secretary Liam Fox and Brexit secretary David Davis, on the grounds that each may have to host foreign visitors and leaders.

Ms Truss replaced Mr Raab as foreign secretary in Wednesday’s reshuffle, but Mr Raab was granted the rank of deputy prime minister as a consolation, alongside his other titles of justice secretary and Lord Chancellor.

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