Boris Johnson is the biggest beneficiary of Rishi Sunak’s self-inflicted misery



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Rishi Sunak has not handled adversity well. He has shown an irritability and a tendency to blame others for bad news for which he alone is responsible.

He should have “seen this slow train coming a long time ago,” as Paul Goodman, a sympathetic Conservative and former MP, put it.

Instead, the chancellor has compared himself to Will Smith, whose wife was also disrespected; he has blamed the Labor Party for “smearing” his wife and father-in-law “to get me”; and his “allies” have blamed Boris Johnson for briefing him, a telling: The Daily Telegraph: “It all comes from No. 10. Rishi is the only credible show in town.”

It is not uplifting and mostly untrue. Far from defaming anyone, Labor has raised legitimate questions about the Chancellor’s private interests. Their legitimacy was confirmed when Akshata Murty, Sunak’s wife, announced that she would henceforth pay UK tax on her international income.

I also don’t think the Prime Minister is responsible for the information that ends up in the public domain. The common assumption about news stories like this is to assume that they are the product of a controlling intelligence, part of a tight-knit group’s plan for world domination, when the reality is mostly chaos, gossip and journalism. Anna Isaac, my colleague on the independentis a good journalist who has researched and published things.

Johnson may be the biggest beneficiary of Sunak’s troubles, but he didn’t have to bring his chancellor down any further to secure his position. The attempt to challenge Johnson’s leadership had already been called off, and Sunak’s position with the party and with the public had already collapsed as a result of last month’s misguided spring statement.

Indeed, Johnson’s longer-term prospects are hardly served by re-establishing in the people the idea that this is a government of rich people whose tax affairs are different from those of the typical voter.

No, the author of Sunak’s disorder is Sunak himself. He knew his wife’s non-dominance status was a problem, so he didn’t tell more people about it. The Treasury said it disclosed it – but to the Cabinet – when he first became a minister in the local government department in 2018, and to the Treasury when he became chief secretary a year later.

But the ministerial code requires him to provide the permanent secretary of his own department with a list of “all interests likely to give rise to a conflict”. The code couldn’t be clearer: “The list should also cover the interests of the minister’s spouse or partner and close family who may be thought to give rise to a conflict.”

The prime minister seemed pleased to get back at Sunak yesterday when he said ‘no’, he hadn’t known that the chancellor’s wife was a nun. That was a payback for Sunak’s markedly delayed support for Johnson when the prime minister apologized in the House of Commons for lockdown celebrations in Downing Street.

Johnson also said during a press conference with Germany’s Olaf Scholz, when asked about Sunak’s US green card, “As I understand it, the chancellor has done absolutely everything he had to do.” (That was a reference to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not the Chancellor of Germany, the last foreign leader to watch in amazement as British domestic politics interrupted world affairs.) That “as I understand it” basically said that Sunak was safe for now, but that if there are any more inconvenient revelations, he may not be.

The green card, which grants permanent resident status in the US, is unlikely to harm Sunak. It has no tax benefits; he seems to have used it, like many of the rich in the world, to allow him to “come out of the US and go as if he were a passport holder”, as a tax accountant put it.

His wife’s illegitimate status is different, but now that she has given up the tax advantage, that damage has also been limited to a large extent late. She will still enjoy an estate tax benefit, but she has solved the immediate problem by paying millions, retroactive to the past tax year, to save her husband’s political career.

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There is a new danger for Sunak in the independentlast night’s report that he has been named as the beneficiary of trusts in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. We need to know more about that, as Pat McFadden, the shadow chief of the Labor Treasury, has rightly said. But for now, Sunak has done enough, late and with ill grace, to survive in the post.

He survives, but he is weakened. A lower chancellor may have left – to be replaced by Steve Barclay or Nadhim Zahawi, perhaps – but Johnson needs someone with Sunak’s wealth in the cabinet. We can see who could replace Sunak if he fell, but suddenly it’s harder than ever to see who could replace Johnson. One of Sunak’s strengths was that he seemed like an alternative prime minister who was ready for the furnace should his party and his country need one.

Now that’s gone. Ben Wallace, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid and Tom Tugendhat are all Remainers; yet Zahawi, Barclay, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove are not yet the obvious answer to the conservative party’s prayers.

Boris Johnson is even more confident at number 10 for now, even if Sunak’s problems are making the next election a little harder for the Conservatives to win.

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