Cabinet minister refuses to rule out leadership bid

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Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi  (PA Wire)
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (PA Wire)

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi refused three times to rule himself out of a Conservative leadership election contest if Boris Johnson loses Monday evening’s crunch vote of confidence.

Mr Zahawi was asked on BBC’s World at One at lunchtime on Monday whether he would put himself forward as a potential leader if more than half of Conservative MPs vote against the Prime Minister in the secret ballot.

While he defended Mr Johnson’s record and called for his party colleague to continue to support him, he refused to directly answer whether he would put his name forward to be leader if “the ball should come out of theback of the scrum” - a reference to Mr Johnson’s own answer to questions about his leadership ambitions while Mayor of London in 2013.

“As far as I am concerend there is an opportunity tonight to put this behind us,” said Mr Zahawi, who has been touted as a potential candidate for the top job should it become vacant.

“Boris Johnson is our Prime Minister. It would be completely foolish. I bear the scars of 97 and the speculation againt John Major. It would be a disaster to rid ourselves of a leader who has made the tough calls when it really mattered to this nation.”

Asked again if he would stand, he replied: “You enjoy asking this question because it will grab you a headline to say one of his cabinet ministers has come out and taken a different position. I am not going to do that because Boris will be our prime minster.”

Quizzed again, he added: “To change the Prime Minister is to destabilise this government when there is war in Europe.”

Meanwhile another Cabinet minister, Health Secretary Sajid Javid, left the door open on a leadership bid in an interview with LBC.

He refused to directly answer whether he would be interested in the job if the opportunity came up.

“I am very happy and privileged to be doing the job I have,” he said. “This is the most important job I have had, after a pandemic to have the privilege to be dealing with health care challenges. That’s all I want.”

Elsewhere Chancellor Rishi Sunak faced a grilling from the Labour MP Dame Angela Eagle over his own support for the Prime Minister in a session with the Treasury Select Committee on the cost of living crisis.

Asked whether he agreed with former Treasury minister Jesse Norman, who released a damning letter calling for Mr Johnson to go on Monday morning, Mr Sunak replied that while he was grateful for the job he did while he worked at the Treasury he did not agree with his assessment.

He told the committee: “I worked with Jesse for a while and he did a very good job and I am grateful for the job he did. I disagree with him and I support the Prime Minister.”

He also said he disagreed with the PM’s former anti corruption tsar John Penrose who quite on Monday morning with a swipe at Mr Johnson.

The Chancellor also said the announcement of a £15 billion support package for households to deal with rising energy prices was not linked to the Sue Gray report on partygate.

"We couldn't do it for the spring statement because the observation window had barely opened for the price cap, so anything could have the potential to be very wrongly sized," he said.

"Now, we had more of the time you need, in order to have four months of the six-month window behind you to make the decision regarding support on an informed basis.

"I have always said I want to strike the right balance about reassurance to people and waiting for enough information to ensure it is appropriately sized.

"There is no perfect time but we had to do it."

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