Sunak’s top job powerplay: Rishi ‘laying his bets’ on Boris Johnson ‘collapsing’ as PM

Sunak says he wouldn’t have said Johnson’s Savile comment

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Meanwhile a senior Tory MP has said Mr Sunak was “getting closer to making his move” to replace Mr Johnson – but did not yet have sufficient support. Mr Sunak raised eyebrows yesterday during a press conference in which he was put on the spot over Mr Johnson’s attempt to blame Sir Keir Starmer for the failure to prosecute Jimmy Saville when the Labour leader was Director of Public Prosecutions.

He explained: “Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it and I’m glad the PM clarified what he meant.”

Mr Johnson is under intense pressure following the publication of an update to a report by civil servant Sue Gray into various lockdown-busting events connected with the Government in 2020 – including at least one attended which he himself attended.

The heat has been turned up further still by the resignation of four key staff, including Munira Mirza, who cited Mr Johnson’s remarks about Sir Keir as the final straw, with speculation mounting that Mr Sunak is gearing up for a leadership challenge.

The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told “He’s obviously laying his bets for the Prime Minister to collapse. And he’s going to look pretty silly if he doesn’t collapse.”

With respect to the resignations, which have also included Principal Private Secretary Martin Reynolds, press chief Jack Doyle and chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, the insider suggested they had effectively jumped before they were pushed.

Whether Mr Johnson was able to get control of the situation depended on what happened next, the source said, explaining: “A lot depends on who he replaces these people with.

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“He has got to replace them with people the party and the MPs have got confidence in.”

The backbencher said of Mr Sunak: “I think that he is moving closer to making a move.

“However, I don’t think that he has sufficient support yet. In fact I am not sure how much support he has got.”

Professor Tony Travers, director of LSE London, told “Clearly everything we know of the senior politicians, particularly when they sniff the potential of winning the leadership race, shows we should interpret every move they made, every smile every step every word, as a sort of like a code breaker.

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“I think obviously Rishi Sunak’s remarks yesterday he would have made knowing how they would be interpreted – they’ve been interpreted in the way that they were intended to be.

“It’s definitely sending a signal to get some degree of first mover advantage it would appear.

Referring to Mr Sunak’s appearance in the Commons on Monday, when he sat behind Boris Johnson wearing a facemark, Mr Travers added: “The mask is very interesting, not always sitting next to the Prime Minister, all these things are carefully calculated signals.”

Leading rivals within the Conservative Party include Chancellor of the Exchequer Mr Sunak, 41, and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, 46.

To trigger a leadership challenge, 54 of the 360 Conservative MPs in parliament must write letters of no confidence to the chairman of the party’s 1922 Committee.

Speaking on Friday, Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said the Prime Minister and Mr Sunak continue to work closely together.

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