Boris Johnson has full confidence in Rishi Sunak, his spokesman has said, but he would not deny that the prime minister threatened to demote his chancellor.
After reports of tensions, the No 10 spokesman said: “The prime minister and the chancellor have always enjoyed a close and effective working relationship, and will continue to do so.”
However, he did not deny that Johnson had floated the idea of demoting Sunak to health secretary after a letter from the chancellor calling for Covid travel restrictions to be lifted was leaked last week.
Johnson is reported to have been furious about the leak, partly because he largely shared Sunak’s position on the need to relax restrictions. The letter, which made its way into the hands of the Sunday Times, was pitched as an unprecedented intervention to persuade the prime minister to change the UK’s quarantine policy.
Johnson brought in Sunak after a rift with the former chancellor Sajid Javid, but since then relations have soured, with the chancellor now more popular with grassroots Conservatives than the prime minister, according to ConservativeHome surveys.
Asked about the difficult relations in Downing Street, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, told broadcasters: “I happen to think the PM and chancellor get on very well generally. They are both very good … there are always disagreements. There is always going to be a slight creative tension between No 10 and No 11. I happen to think this PM and chancellor are working very effectively together.”
He said there was no need to move the chancellor but “that’s up to the PM”, adding: “I think Rishi is doing a great job as chancellor.”
The prime minister’s official spokesman also said there were no imminent plans for a cabinet reshuffle.