Downing Street denies rift between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak outside No 11 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak outside No 11 Downing Street - Credit: PA

Downing Street has denied that there is a rift between prime minister Boris Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak, after Johnson stayed away for his big economic speech in the Commons.

A spokesperson said Johnson fully supported the package and denied he treated the police visit as being more important than the chancellor’s announcement.

“Obviously we wouldn’t see it that way,” the spokesman said.

He did not say whether the police visit was arranged before or after Sunak’s speech was scheduled.

Some had also interpreted Sunak’s statement that the nation must learn to “live without fear” as contradicting Johnson's move to impose new restrictions to slow the spread of Covid-19.

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The chancellor’s remark that “our lives can no longer be put on hold” as he detailed his latest emergency jobs package was also welcomed by Tory backbenchers uneasy over fresh restrictions.

But chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay insisted both men occupying the top offices in Downing Street are working in tandem.

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Asked who is in charge, Barclay told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The prime minister and the chancellor are working extremely closely together and I think you can see that in the dovetailing of measures.”

He said there is a need to work “in tandem between both the health measures announced by the prime minister and those of the chancellor”.

On Sky News, Barclay was asked whether the chancellor’s use of the word “fear” was a suggestion that people should not follow the guidance.

He responded: “Quite the opposite. I think what’s very clear from the message, the chancellor said we need to address the health risks in order to protect jobs.”

Senior Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat praised the chancellor’s approach when asked whether it is No 10 or 11 that is running the show.

He told Today: “I’m sure the prime minister is running the government. But I think Rishi Sunak did an extremely impressive job yesterday and I have to say he enjoys huge amounts of confidence on Conservative benches and when I speak to people around the country, and certainly the people I represent in Kent, he has huge support as well.”

Conservative backbenchers are growing increasingly uneasy over the government’s move to impose sweeping restrictions without parliament voting on them.

More than 40 Tory MPs have backed an amendment from influential Conservative Sir Graham Brady which could force a debate on measures.

The number of rebels means there is the distinct possibility Johnson could lose if it goes to a vote, with his Commons majority just under 80.

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