JASON GROVES: Fears the Rishi Sunak has been tarnished for good

JASON GROVES: A rare flash of anger and fears the Tory golden boy has been tarnished for good

  • Rishi Sunak became Chancellor in 2020 at the youthful age of 39
  • Immediately faced with the Covid crisis, he was credited with furlough scheme 
  • But his shine has faded recently after his wife’s non-dom status was revealed 
  • He warned people not to ‘come at my wife’ but Tories admit it’s fair comment 
  • His role as clear successor to Boris Johnson is now in doubt after recent weeks 

For a long time Rishi Sunak seemed impervious to pressure. Catapulted into the top job at the Treasury at the youthful age of 39 following the abrupt departure of Sajid Javid in February 2020, he had to deliver his first Budget within a month.

Nine days later, as Britain headed for lockdown, he announced the unprecedented furlough scheme, which is credited with keeping millions of families off the breadline.

Throughout the pandemic, as he was forced to unveil ever more support and the taxes to pay for it, he displayed a preternatural calm.

All this helped make him the most popular politician in the country, and the clear favourite to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.

But as his popularity faded in recent weeks, the pressure has begun to show. The Chancellor was uncharacteristically snippy with the BBC’s Mishal Husain when she questioned the lack of action to deal with the cost of living in last month’s mini-Budget.

And he let slip a rare flash of anger over criticism of his wife and father-in-law over their shareholdings in the IT giant Infosys, which had retained operations in Moscow when the Chancellor was pressuring firms to leave.

Rishi Sunak with wife Akshata Murty at their wedding in Bangalore. Yesterday he accused critics of trying to ‘smear my wife to get at me’.

Mr Sunak said he found the criticism ‘very upsetting’ and warned people not to ‘come at my wife’.

Now, as questions grow about the tax affairs of his heiress wife, Akshata Murty, there are fears he could unravel altogether. Yesterday he accused critics of trying to ‘smear my wife to get at me’.

But even Tory MPs privately acknowledge it is not a smear to point out the political implications of the revelation that Miss Murty, whose share in Infosys is worth £730million, is domiciled in India for tax purposes, despite living in a taxpayer-funded flat in Downing Street.

Boris Johnson revealed last night that the arrangement had been kept from him.

Above: Rishi Sunak and Akshata Murthy arrive to celebrate the British Asian Trust at British Museum on February 09, 2022. Mr Sunak said he found the criticism ‘very upsetting’ and warned people not to ‘come at my wife’.

And the Chancellor was last night facing further questions after the Treasury admitted he held a US Green Card and filed US tax returns until last October, meaning he was classed as a ‘permanent resident’ of another country while living in Downing Street.

Mr Sunak yesterday doubled down on the suggestion that his wife might have to give up her Indian citizenship to become tax-domiciled in this country. Tax lawyers are unanimous that non-dom status is a choice and that her Indian citizenship is ‘irrelevant’ –something Mr Sunak, as Chancellor, must know.

There is white-hot fury at the Treasury over the leak of Miss Murty’s tax status, which had been revealed to only a few senior officials to comply with conflict of interest rules.

Some allies are reported to blame No10 for damaging briefings about the Chancellor, with one saying those close to the PM had been ‘gunning for him’. Mr Sunak blamed a ‘Labour smear’, with allies pointing the finger at a Labour-supporting mole in Whitehall.

Tension between the PM and Chancellor (pictured above) has grown recently, and some of those close to Mr Johnson are struggling to conceal their schadenfreude at Mr Sunak’s misfortunes

Downing Street vehemently denied involvement, and Mr Johnson is said to have gone out of his way to reassure his Chancellor personally that the reports were untrue. Tension between the PM and Chancellor has grown recently, and some of those close to Mr Johnson are struggling to conceal their schadenfreude at Mr Sunak’s misfortunes.

Allies of the PM remain furious that the Chancellor ‘went Awol’ as the PM fought for survival at the height of the Partygate scandal in January.

Mr Sunak even continued with an engagement in Devon rather than support Mr Johnson in the Commons.

The Chancellor stunned No10 a few days later by taking a swipe at the PM over his controversial suggestion that Sir Keir Starmer had personally failed to prosecute notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile.

Many Tories believed the Chancellor was poised to strike if the PM was dragged into a confidence vote by his MPs.

One, who is close to the PM, said Mr Johnson should use his new-found political clout to sack Mr Sunak in a reshuffle, adding: ‘When it came to the crunch the PM found out who his friends really are – and Rishi wasn’t one of them. At the very least he should move him out of the Treasury.’

Tensions have also continued to mount over tax and spending. In the run-up to last month’s Spring Statement, senior figures were aghast at how little the Chancellor was planning to do about the cost of living. In the fortnight before the statement the PM urged Mr Sunak to do more, resulting in a 5p cut in fuel duty and more generous changes to National Insurance thresholds. But Mr Sunak vetoed the idea of more generous help on fuel bills.

Tensions flared again over the energy strategy, which was delayed for weeks while the Chancellor tried in vain to pare back the PM’s ambition to expand nuclear power.

One insider disputed claims there were tensions between the pair, adding: ‘When you see them in meetings they complement each other perfectly – like a cup and saucer.’

Mr Sunak’s ‘man of the people’ bid was scuppered when it was revealed that the Kia Rio he was pictured filled up (above) was not his but borrowed from a Sainsbury’s worker

The PM last night rubbished suggestions of a rift, saying the Chancellor was doing an ‘outstanding job’.

Whatever the truth, Mr Sunak cannot blame anyone but himself for some of his recent misfortunes.

A stunt to promote the fuel duty cut backfired when it emerged that the Kia Rio he was pictured filling up had been borrowed from a worker at the petrol station. And he did little for his man of the people credentials when he seemed confounded over how to use a card to buy a Coke.

Mr Sunak bridled at suggestions he was out of touch, telling MPs that his family drives a humble VW Golf. But, with weary inevitability, the next day’s Mirror newspaper revealed he also owns a high-spec Range Rover, a top-of-the-range Lexus and a BMW.

Now, he plans to try to redress this with a ‘town hall’ tour of Britain to field questions from the public.

But is too late for his ambitions to lead the country?

Some Tory MPs certainly think so. One former minister said: ‘The shine has come off and it is very hard to see how he can restore it.’

Another said: ‘The only way this ends well is if she gives up her non-dom status. There’s no way he could ever be PM while his wife is domiciled abroad. It’s not even clear he should be Chancellor.’

A third said: ‘I think people felt his leadership ambitions were finished after the Spring Statement anyway. It’s certainly over now.’

Paul Goodman, editor of the grassroots website Conservative Home, said the Chancellor had two options: ‘Give in and be seen as weak or dig in and be seen as stubborn.

‘The very worst thing that can happen is to dig in and then have to give way, and I wonder if that is what will eventually happen here.’

Friends of Mr Sunak acknowledge he has the outside interests – and certainly the money – to walk away from politics and forge a new life.

But they insist he is no quitter. ‘He is in politics to make a difference,’ said one. ‘He is not going anywhere.’

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