Sunak and Javid didn’t take 'cowards way out,' insists Chancellor as PM fights to survive

6 July 2022, 01:09 | Updated: 6 July 2022, 11:58

By Emma Soteriou

Newly appointed Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi grappled to shore up Boris Johnson's floundering leadership this morning saying now isn't the time for Conservative MPs to 'turn on one another'.

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Mr Johnson is now in a desperate damage limitation battle after bombshells from the former Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who walked out within minutes of each other with broadsides at Boris Johnson's lack of 'integrity' and competence.

In his first morning round of interviews after being appointed Chancellor, Mr Zahawi told Tom Swarbrick at Breakfast on LBC this morning that he didn't believe Mr Sunak and Mr Javid took a 'coward's way out.'

"I genuinely think this is not the time to divide, this is the time to come together and deliver for the country.

"Turning on one another does not deliver additional pounds into people’s accounts."

He said he didn’t quit last night because the government is battling a cost of living crisis and there is war in Ukraine.

He added that any decision on a snap election would be a matter for the Prime Minister.

Asked whether he thought the PM would change his ways, Mr Zahawi said: "It’s good leadership to come out and say I made a mistake and I’m sorry for that.

"The PM is right to apologise. We make decisions at warp speed. He very openly said with the benefit of hindsight… I made a mistake.

"When the PM realised he had made a mistake, he came out and explained that. I think that’s good leadership.

"He does get the big calls right. The PM makes decisions every single day on many many subjects.

"When he realised he made a mistake, with the benefit of hindsight, he shouldn’t have appointed Chris Pincher, he came out and apologised for it.

Asked how anyone can 'trust a word' that comes out of Downing Street, Mr Zahawi said: "I trust the word of a PM who is big enough to come out and apologise."

His comments come as two more MPs became the 11th and 12th to turn their backs on on the PM and leave government.

Laura Trott quit from her role as PPS to the Department for Transport saying 'trust in politics is - and must always be - of the upmost importance, but sadly in recent months this has been lost."

Children's Minister Will Quince also quit days after being paraded on TV to defend Mr Johnson over the Chris Pincher scandal. In his resignation letter, he said he had "no choice" after he appeared on television to defend the PM using Downing Street briefings "which have now been found to be inaccurate".

His letter said: "Dear Prime Minister. Thank you for meeting with me yesterday evening and for your sincere apology regarding the briefings I received from No 10 ahead of Monday's media round, which we now know to be inaccurate.

"It is with great sadness and regret that I feel that I have no choice but to tender my resignation as minister for children and families as I accepted and repeated those assurances in good faith.

"It has been an honour to serve in government since 2019 at both the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education.

"Reaching this decision has not been easy. Stepping away from a job I love, where we are working every day to improve the life chances of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young people up and down our country, pains me greatly.

"I will miss it hugely but pledge to do all I can to continue this important work from the backbenches.

"I would like to take this opportunity to put on record my sincere thanks to the hundreds of dedicated and hard-working civil servants with whom it has been a pleasure to work."

Mr Johnson has been left desperately trying to save his premiership after a bombshell pair of Cabinet resignations and a series of Government exits last night.

Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor on Tuesday, alongside Sajid Javid who resigned as Health Secretary, in a move that came just as the Prime Minister was being forced into a humiliating apology to address the row over scandal-hit former deputy chief whip Chris Pincher.

The pair were swiftly replaced on Tuesday night, with Nadhim Zahawi promoted to be the new Chancellor and Steve Barclay becoming Health Secretary.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan also took on a fresh role, replacing Mr Zahawi as Education Secretary.

Mr Sunak and Mr Javid - both potential leadership rivals - offered sharp criticisms of Mr Johnson in their resignation letters.

Mr Javid said he "can no longer continue in good conscience", adding: "I am instinctively a team player but the British people also rightly expect integrity from their Government. The tone you set as a leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.

"Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision-makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.

"Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither. The vote of confidence last month showed that a large number of our colleagues agree.

"I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership - and you have therefore lost my confidence too."

Read more: Steve Barclay appointed Health Secretary after Sajid Javid resigns

Mr Sunak said that the "public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously", adding that "our approaches are fundamentally too different".

He added: "I firmly believe the public are ready to hear that truth. Our people know that if something is too good to be true then it's not true. They need to know that whilst there is a path to a better future, it is not an easy one...

"I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this."

Both Mr Zahawi and Mr Barclay will not be short of challenges as they step into their new roles, with Mr Javid and Mr Sunak leaving behind the crippling cost of living crisis and NHS backlogs which have caused chaos for Brits.

Mr Zahawi will also be charged with putting together a crucial autumn Budget as inflation bites.

Despite the hard work ahead, Mr Barclay said it was "an honour" to take up the role, adding: "Our NHS and social care staff have showed us time and again - throughout the pandemic and beyond - what it means to work with compassion and dedication to transform lives.

"This government is investing more than ever before in our NHS and care services to beat the Covid backlogs, recruit 50,000 more nurses, reform social care and ensure patients across the country can access the care they need."

Read more: Nadhim Zahawi replaces Sunak as Chancellor of the Exchequer

Whilst Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told Rachel Venables outside of parliament this morning: "Well he is clinging on as I expect. I am disappointed more with my colleagues in the cabinet that haven’t resigned, that’s their decision.

"Ultimately I think the 1922 committee will deal with Boris Johnson next week, that’s what it was invested for.

Adding: "The next leader of the conservative party is coming soon, he or she is going to need to show integrity, courage and leadership and those who cling to this discredited Prime Minister are not doing so."

The Pincher scandal is just the latest Mr Johnson has faced during his leadership, with Partygate also causing chaos in Westminster.

The PM recently faced off a no confidence vote but it appears support in his leadership is dwindling further.

Vice Chairman of the Conservative party Bim Afolami, Parliamentary Private Secretarys Saqib Bhatti, Virginia Crosbie and Nicola Richards.

Cheltenham MP Alex Chalk confirmed his resignation as Solicitor General on Tuesday evening.

Johnson loyalist Jonathan Gullis MP also resigned, saying he made the decision "with a heavy heart".

And the UK's trade envoys to Morocco, Andrew Murrison, and Kenya, Theo Clarke, also stepped down, with Westminster braced for other ministers to follow suit.

Former communications director for Boris Johnson, Will Walden told LBC's Tom Swarbrick the deluge of resignations have come because Tory ministers have realised "Boris never changes"

Speaking on Wednesday morning Mr Walden said: "It's to do with the way Boris Johnson runs his ship and runs his government and in spite of reincarnations of teams over the three years that he has been Prime Minister, the one central factor in all of this is the Prime Minister.

"I am now afraid to say the Tory party is in open civil war and I can see this ending one way, and that is very badly."

Sir Keir Starmer called for more members of the Cabinet to resign in response to Boris Johnson's handling of the Chris Pincher scandal.

The Labour leader said those remain in the Cabinet would be "nodding dogs" if they did not quit.

Sir Keir spoke to journalists shortly before news of Rishi Sunak's resignation broke. Asked if Mr Johnson was a "pathological liar," he said: "Yes, he's a liar.

"What we're seeing this week is a repeat of what we've seen so many times, which is Government ministers going out onto the airwaves, giving answers to questions, and no sooner have they finished the media round that the answers they've given aren't accurate because the Prime Minister and Number 10 haven't been straight with them.

"That is not this week's story, although it is this week's story, it's every week's story. It's on repeat, which is why you see the Conservative Party tearing itself apart today. Should his Cabinet members make sure he leaves office, yes they should. It's their responsibility, in the national interest, to remove him from office.

"They know what he's like, he's said that he's psychologically incapable of changing, and therefore they have to do what's in the national interest and remove him."

He continued: "They should resign, or force him to resign. They have to step up in the national interest now, otherwise they are nodding dogs in this. I would say to them directly: act in the national interest and resign."

And despite cracks appearing in the Cabinet, some members have confirmed that they will continue to back the PM.

An ally of Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, viewed as a potential leadership candidate, said she was "100% behind the PM".

A source close to Ben Wallace, who has been tipped as a potential successor to Boris Johnson, said: "The Defence Secretary is not resigning."

He later hit out saying: "To be clear, I am going on Thursday to see brave Ukrainian men and women training to fight for their lives and their country.

"I wont be indulging in political parlour games nor will I be resigning."

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab and Home Secretary Priti Patel are not expected to quit either.

A source close to Mr Raab said he was "loyal" to Mr Johnson, while an ally of Ms Patel said "she's staying".

Jacob Rees-Mogg confirmed that he would continue to back Mr Johnson too.

The Brexit Opportunities Minister told Sky News: "The Prime Minister won a large mandate in a general election, a vote of the British people and that should not be taken away from him because a number of people resign."

Meanwhile, Nadine Dorries tweeted: "I’m not sure anyone actually doubted this, however, I am behind @BorisJohnson the PM who consistently gets all the big decisions right."

Lord David Frost tweeted that Sunak and Javid "have done the right thing."

He wrote: "It gives me pleasure to say it, and I had hoped that events might have taken a different course, but I'm afraid the developments of the last week show there is no chance of the Prime Minister either putting in place the necessary change of approach to running a government or establishing a new policy direction.

"Boris Johnson has huge achievements to his credit. He has a place in history for delivering Brexit and much more. But it is now time to look forward.

"Accordingly, and with sadness, I believe the interests of the country, our new-found self government, and the Conservative Party would be best served by new leadership and a new Prime Minister."

In a tweet, Mr Sunak said: "The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously.

"I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning."

It came after Sajid Javid issued a blistering attack in his resignation, saying: "I have spoken to the Prime Minister to tender my resignation as Secretary of State for Health & Social Care.

"It has been an enormous privilege to serve in this role, but I regret that I can no longer continue in good conscience."

Mr Sunak's resignation letter read: "The public rightly expect government to be conducted properly, competently and seriously. I recognise this may be my last ministerial job, but I believe these standards are worth fighting for and that is why I am resigning".

He also said he had been "loyal" to Mr Johnson.

"On those occasions where I disagreed with you privately, I have supported you publicly".

Mr Sunak also wrote: "In preparation for our proposed joint speech on the economy next week, it has become clear to me that our approaches are fundamentally too different.

"I am sad to be leaving Government but I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that we cannot continue like this."

Boris Johnson responded to Rishi Sunak praising his "outstanding service".

He wrote: "Dear Rishi, I was sorry to receive your letter resigning from the Government.

"You have provided outstanding service to the country through the most challenging period for our economy in peacetime history".

He noted the furlough scheme, Mr Sunak's work on post-pandemic economic recovery and to repair public finances, as well as tax cuts.

"I have enormously valued your advice and deep commitment to public service and will miss working with you in government," he said.

Read more: 'It was the wrong thing to do': PM admits it was a 'mistake' to promote Pincher

Read more: Civil servant urges colleagues to quit over PM's 'lies' in 'most remarkable' call

Read more: Harry Dunn's 'killer' fled as Pincher 'distracted' by misconduct probe, Labour MP suggests

Meanwhile, in a letter to the Prime Minister, the Health Secretary said that the British people "rightly expect integrity from their Government".

Mr Javid wrote: "The tone you set as leader, and the values you represent, reflect on your colleagues, your party and ultimately the country.

"Conservatives at their best are seen as hard-headed decision makers, guided by strong values. We may not have always been popular, but we have been competent in acting in the national interest.

"Sadly, in the current circumstances, the public are concluding that we are now neither."

Mr Javid told the Prime Minister that the recent vote of confidence was a "moment for humility, grip and new direction".

"I regret to say, however, that it is clear to me that this situation will not change under your leadership - and you have therefore lost my confidence too," he said.

Read more: Glum faces of the cabinet as PM under pressure over Pincher sleaze scandal

He also told Mr Johnson: "You will forever be credited with seeing off the threat of Corbynism, and breaking the deadlock on Brexit."

He continued: "The country needs a strong and principled Conservative Party, and the Party is bigger than any one individual. I served you loyally and as a friend, but we all serve the country first.

"When made to choose between those loyalties there can only be one answer."

The PM responded to Mr Javid, saying he was "sorry" to receive his resignation letter as health secretary and suggesting his Government would "continue to deliver" plans for the NHS.

In a brief letter, the Prime Minister wrote: "Dear Saj, Thank you for your letter this evening tendering your resignation. I was very sorry to receive it.

He concluded: "You will be greatly missed, and I look forward to your contribution from the backbenches."

Tory former chief whip Mark Harper, a consistent critic of Boris Johnson in recent months, tweeted: "Tonight we have seen leadership from (Rishi Sunak) and (Sajid Javid).

"Honourable decisions made by honourable men. The Conservative Party still has so much to offer to our country. It's time for a fresh start."