Rishi Sunak denies betraying Boris Johnson and insists he served him loyally before Prime Minister fell
His resignation last week triggered Mr Johnson’s downfall and has led to angry recriminations from the PM’s allies. One even described him as a ‘treacherous b*****d’.
But the former chancellor tackled the claims head-on, saying he had served ‘loyally’ for more than two years.
He acknowledged that he had disagreed frequently with Mr Johnson, with differences on tax and spending eventually becoming so pronounced that their relationship was ‘no longer working’.
Rishi Sunak, 42, launched his leadership bid on Tuesday to become the next Conservative leader and Prime Minister
‘I will have no part in a rewriting of history that seeks to demonise Boris, exaggerate his faults or deny his efforts,’ added Mr Sunak.
‘We know his achievements: breaking the Brexit deadlock; winning a stunning election victory; rolling out a world-class vaccination programme and standing up for a free Ukraine when other leaders were still wringing their hands.
‘Some people might advise that I should avoid saying all this in case it alienates people but that wouldn’t be honest.’ Mr Sunak described the Prime Minister as ‘flawed’ but said he had ‘a good heart’.
During a brief question and answer session with reporters, he was forced to deny claims that he has been working with Dominic Cummings to bring the PM down.
The former chief aide has publicly endorsed Mr Sunak and is thought to remain close to members of his inner circle. But Mr Sunak said he had not spoken directly to Mr Cummings since he resigned in December 2020 – and ruled out ever giving him a job in Downing Street.
A ConservativeHome survey suggested Mr Sunak would lose to rival Penny Mordaunt and Liz Truss in a head-to-head
HOW THE TORY LEADERSHIP RACE WILL BE FOUGHT: MPS HAVE UNTIL TONIGHT TO GET 20 VOTES – OR BE KNOCKED OUT
The contest to be crowned the new Tory leader – and become Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister – will formally begin today.
Sir Graham Brady, the chair of the Conservatives’ 1922 Committee, has revealed that the winner will be known on 5th September.
But how will the party choose, between now and then, from the long list of contenders?
Here’s how the election process will work…
Today – Nominations open and close for the Tory leadership race. Candidates will have to submit a nomination by 6pm, including a proposer and a seconder and the names of 18 other Conservative MPs who are supporting them.
Tomorrow – The first ballot of Tory MPs will take place between 1.30pm to 3.30pm, with a result to be announced later in the day. Any candidates who receive less than 30 votes in this first ballot will be automatically eliminated. If all candidates meet the 30-vote threshold, then the candidate with the lowest number of votes will be knocked out the contest.
Thursday – A second ballot of Tory MPs will be held which will see the candidate with the lowest number of votes eliminated.
Next week – Further rounds of ballots among Tory MPs will continue, as necessary, until the list of contenders is whittled down to a final two. The lowest-scoring candidate will drop out each time.
21st July – MPs will head away from Westminster for their summer break, meaning this is the deadline for a final pairing to be decided in the parliamentary stage of the leadership election.
Late July and August – CCHQ will assume responsibility for leadership election and will send out ballot papers to around 200,000 Conservative Party members. The Tory grassroots will be asked to decide between the final two candidates, with hustings events to be held across the UK.
5th September – The result of the membership ballot is announced, with the candidate receiving more than 50 per cent of the vote being declared the new Tory leader and Boris Johnson’s replacement as Prime Minister.
6th September – The new Tory leader is likely to be formally appointed as PM during a visit to the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
7th September – The new PM is set to be quizzed in the House of Commons in their first ever Prime Minister’s Questions.
‘Dominic Cummings has had absolutely nothing to do with this campaign and will have absolutely nothing to do with any government that I’m privileged to lead,’ he said. ‘For the record, I’ve not communicated with Dominic Cummings since the day he left Downing Street.’
Mr Sunak yesterday faced awkward questions about his heiress wife’s former non dom status and his own decision to maintain a US ‘green card’ while working as a minister. He said he had been cleared of wrongdoing by the former adviser on ministerial ethics Lord Geidt, adding that questions about his private affairs were ‘all out there’.
Mr Sunak is the hot favourite to top the poll among Tory MPs in the coming days. Almost 50 have already backed him – almost double the number for his nearest rival Penny Mordaunt. But polling of the grassroots suggests he could struggle in the final round, when the two candidates selected by MPs are voted on by party members.
The ConservativeHome survey found he would lose against Liz Truss, new Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, trade minister Miss Mordaunt, attorney general Suella Braverman and even relative unknown Kemi Badenoch.
Mr Sunak’s campaign was boosted yesterday with the backing of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who abandoned his own bid for the top job.
Mr Raab said Mr Sunak had ‘got what it takes’ to be PM. He also has the support of a string of former chancellors, including Nigel Lawson, Norman Lamont, Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond.
In his speech yesterday he stuck to his warning that tax cuts would have to wait until inflation had been ‘gripped’. And he hit out at rival candidates making big pledges to slash tax, accusing them of telling ‘fairy tales’. Mr Sunak said he was committed to cutting the tax burden, saying cuts were a matter of ‘when, not if’.
But he said it was not credible to promise lots more spending and lower taxes.
‘We need a return to traditional Conservative economic values and that means honesty and responsibility, not fairy tales,’ he said.
Mr Sunak’s speech was light on policy. But, in comments that may raise concerns on the Tory Right, he said he wanted to produce a ‘new consensus’ on immigration.
A spokesman last night denied that he would scrap the Government’s Rwanda scheme for dealing with Channel migrants.
A Whitehall source said Mr Sunak had been opposed to the scheme and had dragged his feet in signing it off. But a spokesman for the former Chancellor said last night: ‘Rishi signed off and funded the asylum partnership agreement with Rwanda, and now he just wants to make sure that it works.
‘Rishi is proud to be from a family of immigrants but believes that the UK must have control of its borders.’
Mr Sunak also declined to commit to increasing defence spending to 2.5 per cent of national income, saying he wanted to fund an effective Armed Forces rather than set an ‘arbitrary’ target.