UK PM Johnson threatened to demote Rishi Sunak over leaked letter: Report

PTI, Aug 8, 2021, 4:41 PM IST

London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is said to have been furious over a letter being leaked to the media last week, which claimed his Chancellor Rishi Sunak had written to push for easier international COVID-19 travel norms ahead of a planned review.

The reaction followed media reports that the Indian-origin finance minister had written to his boss, calling for a significant easing of the coronavirus travel restrictions, warning that they were damaging the economy.

According to The Sunday Times, which reported on the letter last Sunday, Johnson is said to have been “apoplectic” with anger and even suggested a demotion for Sunak from the powerful Treasury department to take charge of Health.

“The problem was that the first Johnson knew of the letter was when details of it appeared in the media,” the report said.

Quoting a senior source from a meeting, it said that Johnson then went on to say in the presence of around a dozen officials that he had been thinking about a change.

“‘Maybe it’s time we looked at Rishi as the next Secretary of State for Health. He could potentially do a very good job there.’ In an open meeting, after ranting about Rishi, he then suggested the Chancellor could be demoted in the next reshuffle,” the source said.

The newspaper pointed out that Johnson is known for his “off-the-cuff” remarks, often made in jest.

While Downing Street refused to comment on “private conversations”, allies of Sunak insisted he remains focussed on his current brief to revive the COVID-hit UK economy.

“The Chancellor is solely focused on securing the country’s economic recovery and continuing to protect and create jobs,” ITV News quoted a Treasury Department source as saying.

Meanwhile, Sunak is preparing for a tough budget, known as the autumn Spending Review, in the coming weeks.

There have been reports of how this has put him on a collision course with his boss Johnson, who is determined on spending on projects while budgets remain constrained due to the costs incurred due to the pandemic.

Reports of clashes between No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street – the office of the UK Prime Minister and Chancellor respectively – have been doing the rounds for some time, amid the economic pressures triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis.

However, it is generally believed that a Cabinet reshuffle is not on the cards for the coming months.

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