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Rishi Sunak: 'I don't want to be prime minister'

Victoria Bell
·4-min read
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak react as they talk with members of staff during their visit to the headquarters of energy supplier Octopus Energy in London on October 05, 2020. - The visit coincides with the company's plan to create 1,000 new technology jobs across sites in England. (Photo by Leon Neal / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak talk with members of staff during their visit to the headquarters of energy supplier Octopus Energy in London on Monday. (Getty)

Rishi Sunak has said he does not want to become prime minister and praised his “close personal friendship” with Boris Johnson.

Asked in an interview after his virtual Tory conference speech if he eventually wants the keys to No 10, the chancellor said: “No. Definitely not, seeing what the prime minister has to deal with – this is a job hard enough for me to do.”

Sunak acknowledged that Johnson calls him “Rish”, adding: “I call him prime minister – he keeps trying to tell me to call him other things but I just stick with PM.

“We have a close personal friendship which then spreads through the teams, where there’s an enormous amount of mutual trust.”

Watch: Sunak vows to support jobs through COVID crisis

The chancellor said his two daughters’ “favourite thing in the world” is Johnson’s dog Dilyn, a rescue pet the prime minister adopted last year with his now-fiancee Carrie Symonds.

“Our families are very joined at that moment,” Sunak said.

In his speech, the chancellor, 40, promised to balance the books after the coronavirus crisis brought the economy to a standstill and forced the government to spend billions to support workers, struggling businesses and the NHS.

He said: “I am committing myself to a single priority – to create, support and extend opportunity to as many people as I can.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (L) and Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak visit the headquarters of Octopus Energy on October 5, 2020 in London. - The visit coincides with the company's plan to create 1,000 new technology jobs across sites in England. (Photo by Leon Neal / POOL / AFP) (Photo by LEON NEAL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak said he and Boris Johnson have a very close relationship. (Getty)

“We have a sacred responsibility to future generations to leave the public finances strong.

“And through careful management of our economy, this Conservative government will always balance the books.

Read more: Missing 16,000 coronavirus tests glitch 'caused by large Excel spreadsheet file'

“If instead we argue there is no limit on what we can spend, that we can simply borrow our way out of any hole, what is the point in us?

“I have never pretended there is some easy cost-free answer. Hard choices are everywhere.”

The chancellor was appointed in February after the dramatic resignation of Sajid Javid.

Sunak’s appointment at 39 makes him the second youngest ever chancellor, behind George Osborne.

File photo dated 8/1/2020 of Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen. The Prime Minister is to hold talks with the European Commission president to take stock of negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade deal, Downing Street has said.
Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen are to hold talks to take stock of negotiations on a post-Brexit free trade deal. (PA)

Despite entering office just as the coronavirus crisis was about to change everything, his Eat Out to Help Out promotion and the furlough scheme have seen his popularity soar.

Meanwhile, Johnson appears to have fallen out of favour, both among Tories and the public.

According to a survey of party members by the website ConservativeHome, 81.5% are satisfied with Rishi Sunak, while Johnson has for the first time ever gone into negative territory with a rating of -10.3%.

Read more: Criminals 'handed coronavirus discounts as sentences shortened because of harsh new prison conditions'

He recorded the second-lowest score of any cabinet member, with education secretary Gavin Williamson scoring -43%.

Conservatives have turned on the PM over COVID restrictions, particularly with local lockdowns, and his apparent plans to breach international law over Brexit.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at BBC Broadcasting House in London to appear on the Andrew Marr show.
Johnson has come under scrutiny for his handling of the coronavirus crisis and plans to breach international law to renage on the current Brexit deal. (PA)

Sunak’s comments today echo Johnson’s 2017 dismissal of reports that he wanted to replace Theresa May as prime minister as "tripe".

"It is absolutely right she should go ahead for this government and it is absolutely right that she should go ahead and deliver on the priorities for the people and I am going to be backing her," said Johnson, then foreign secretary.

Read more: New Zealand lifts coronavirus restrictions after beating Auckland outbreak

A year before that, he told the The Andrew Marr Show his reported ambition to become prime minister was “cobblers”.

"Do you expect to be our next prime minister?" Marr asked Johnson.

"Look at the – look at the – certainly not… I think the whole thing is a load of cobblers," Johnson said.

Watch: What are the new job support schemes and grants for the self-employed?

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