Boris Johnson downfall ‘not my doing’, says Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has claimed he is not responsible for the downfall of Boris Johnson as prime minister – insisting that last year’s Tory rebellion was “not my doing”.

The Tory prime minister quit as chancellor in July, a move which sparked a series of other government resignations leading to Mr Johnson’s summer exit from No 10.

Pressed in an interview with ConservativeHome whether Tory members could trust him after his decision to quit, Mr Sunak said: “I made the decision I made for reasons that were personal to me.”

The PM added: “There was a fundamental difference about economic policy … and ultimately I had to resign. What happened thereafter was not my doing.”

Mr Sunak’s resignation letter – which came amid deep frustration over Partygate – said the public deserved higher standards and for government to be conducted “properly, competently and seriously”.

He also mentioned the economy in his exit letter, saying it had become clear “that our approaches are fundamentally too different”.

In Thursday’s interview, in which Mr Sunak also faced questions from the Tory grassroots, he declined to say whether he would ever consider giving Mr Johnson a cabinet job – but said he welcomed former PMs “contributing to public life”

Mr Sunak also insisted the UK was a “foreign policy superpower” in its own right after Brexit, following Emmanuel Macron’s comments about the EU’s response to China and the US.

The French president used an interview with Politico and Les Echos to say the EU should become a “third superpower” and avoid getting dragged into a clash between China and the US over Taiwan.

“We don’t need to be part of the EU to be a foreign policy superpower – we are a foreign policy superpower,” said the prime minister.

He highlighted the Aukus submarine deal with the US and Australia, the Windsor Framework agreement with the EU, the Anglo-French summit and the accession to the CPTPP Pacific trade area as examples of the UK’s global status.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak together in October 2020


Mr Sunak said: “We’re doing things other countries can’t do. We can operate in all those places I just mentioned … I think that’s unique. It’s one of our great strengths – that fact that we can play in all these different places.”

The PM also admitted his plans to stop small boats “won’t happen overnight” and declined to promise they could be completed by the next general election.

Asked if he will be able to stop illegal crossings by the election expected in 2024, he said: “I’ve always said this is not something that is a) easy; it is a complicated problem where there’s no single, simple solution that will fix it. And I’ve also said it won’t happen overnight.”

The Tory leader also said “there may well be” an interim judgment from the European Court of Human Rights against his plan to detain deport small boat arrivals – as happened with the Rwanda scheme.

Rishi Sunak has pledged to ‘stop the boats’

(WPA Rota)

“That’s always likely to happen in these cases and we will robustly challenge those, as we are doing with the Rwandan cases that are currently working their way through the court system,” he said.

Mr Sunak also insisted there is little Tory support for a planning system which imposes “top-down targets”, after caving in to pressure to make the target of building 300,000 homes a year in England advisory rather than mandatory.

Despite considerable Tory pressure to help young people get on the housing ladder, the PM insisted the government wants build homes in “the right places” and “the right way” and would “protect places that are special to local communities”.

Mr Sunak refused to say whether the Tories would retaliate with personalised attacks on Sir Keir Starmer after Labour accused the PM of not believing child sex abusers should go to prison.

Asked about the controversial Labour attack ad – and whether his party would respond in the general election campaign – Mr Sunak said he was “focused on delivering our priorities” and was “proud of our record” on crime.

Pressed again whether he would attack Labour leader’s record as head of the Crown Prosecution Service, the PM said: “People have pointed out his [Sir Keir] record on these things.”

Mr Sunak has said the “inner conviction” that he is doing the right thing helps him through the “trickier days” in No 10. Mr Sunak also discussed his Hindu faith and said he had a Lord Ganesh statue on his desk in Downing Street.

He said that when people start a job or business “typically you would offer a prayer to Lord Ganesh because he brings you good luck when you start a new venture”.

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