Cabinet heavyweights deal Johnson potentially fatal blows

As Boris Johnson took to the airwaves at 6pm to offer a mea culpa for appointing Chris Pincher as deputy chief whip, he was immediately undermined as health secretary Sajid Javid took to Twitter to resign.

Five minutes later, he was followed by chancellor Rishi Sunak. The two senior cabinet ministers, who are close friends and share a love of the Star Wars films, launched a leadership coup that may topple the UK prime minister.

Allies of Sunak and Javid offered disputed accounts of whether their resignations were co-ordinated, despite the close timing release of the letters. One official close to Sunak denied his decision was linked to that of the health secretary.

But one ally of Javid said: “Saj has been pretty unhappy for some time but I know he had been advised not go on his own. I can’t believe he didn’t talk to Rishi before he decided to walk, it’s implausible.”

In his letter, Javid said that the Tory party under Johnson was no longer “competent in acting in the national interest” and criticised the prime minister’s personal conduct. “The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.”

Although Javid ran for the Tory party leadership against Johnson in 2019, his allies expressed concern any ambitions to run again could be damaged by the tax perks he enjoyed by holding non-domiciled status before becoming an MP.

Sunak likewise has been politically damaged by the non-dom tax status of his wife, Akshata Murty, and his US green card. MPs widely expect him to run for the Tory leadership if a vacancy arises, but those close to his inner circle said he had not made up his mind on standing.

One Tory MP close to Sunak said: “If there is a vacancy, I’d be surprised if he doesn’t stand. But it’s not a done deal and I don’t think it played any part in his decision to quit.”

Meanwhile, one ally of Sunak said that things had been “choppy” between him and Johnson for a long time, but felt there was residual loyalty to Johnson, who appointed him chancellor in February 2020.

“Rishi has always been loyal, there have been times when it has been difficult for him to go on but he knew he owed his job to the prime minister. . but things got to the point where enough is enough.”

Sunak has considered resigning before, in the run-up to last Christmas when Downing Street was considering another lockdown, which the chancellor opposed.

He has also long been angered by Johnson arguing simultaneously for lower taxes and higher public expenditure, while he was seeking to impose fiscal discipline on the government after high spending during the pandemic.

In his letter to Johnson, Sunak admitted that his move may mean “this may be my last ministerial job” but felt that economic differences with Number 10 were too great. “It has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different,” he said.

“If you look at the final paragraph of the resignation letter, he talked about truth,” the chancellor’s ally said. “Truth is something he has always believed in — integrity and truth.” Sunak spoke to Johnson by telephone just before releasing his resignation letter on Twitter.

But one senior Conservative party insider close to both ministers said the pair were in no doubt of the consequences of their decision to resign. “Rishi and Saj echo the feelings of many MPs and activists in the wider party. He {Johnson] has treated us all with contempt and he may have to be dragged out. But they’ve done us a favour today.”

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