Downing Street has denied any rift between Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, after the prime minister chose not to attend the chancellor’s crucial announcement of his Winter Economy Plan.
Traditionally, prime ministers position themselves firmly alongside their 11 Downing Street neighbour on the front bench of the Commons for budgets and mini-budgets, nodding their heads vigorously and patting the chancellor’s back to signal their approval of all his measures.
But Mr Johnson chose instead to visit police recruits in Northamptonshire while the chancellor delivered his statement, which replaced the cancelled budget which had been expected in November.
Asked by reporters whether the PM’s absence was a sign of “problems between the neighbours in Downing Street”, the prime minister’s official spokesman replied: “Absolutely not.”
“You heard from the prime minister yesterday setting out that he’d been working closely with the chancellor on creative solutions to the challenges that we face,” said Mr Johnson’s spokesman.
“The PM and the chancellor have been working closely on the response to the pandemic and ensuring that we have strong plans for jobs and growth and ensuring we build back better.”
The prime minister and chancellor were “absolutely” in agreement on the response to the pandemic, he said.
With only 50 MPs allowed in the Commons chamber at a time, and backslapping firmly forbidden by social distancing rules, it would anyway have been difficult for Mr Johnson to put on the show of support normally expected from a PM for his chancellor.
But he made clear his backing for Sunak’s plan in a TV interview in Northamptonshire, saying: “Of course I fully support the package of measures that we’ve jointly drawn up.”