London, July 6 (PTI) In the end, it was the case of ministers being briefed incorrectly about the appointment of a member of Parliament known for misconduct to an important government post that proved too much for Rishi Sunak, the first Indian-origin politician to hold the high UK Cabinet office of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
While Sunak does not mention the now-suspended former Deputy Chief Whip Chris Pincher by name in his withering resignation letter, the tone makes clear that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s late admission of error in appointing Pincher was simply the last straw.
The 42-year-old Conservative Party MP was candid not only about the incompetence of the government that error reflected but also about his disappointment with his boss’ handling of economic policy through the tough post-pandemic times.
“Our country is facing immense challenges. We both want a low-tax, high-growth economy, and world-class public services, but this can only be responsibly delivered if we are prepared to work hard, make sacrifices and take difficult decisions,” reads his letter handed in on Tuesday.
“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,” he said.
The former minister goes on to refer to a proposed joint speech on the economy next week, which had made it clear that their approaches to tackling the economic crisis are “fundamentally too different”.
It exposes the ongoing tension beyond the partygate scandal, which had also engulfed him with a fine imposed for being present in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street in June 2020 when Johnson was surprised with a birthday cake.
Those close to Sunak revealed he was ready to quit when he received that COVID law-breaking fine from the Metropolitan Police earlier this year because he felt wrongly tarnished as he was there for an official meeting.
However, it seems Johnson was able to convince his ally to stay on and even got his backing in the vote of no confidence last month.
“I have been loyal to you. I backed you to become leader of our party and encouraged others to do so,” notes Sunak's letter but goes on to declare the British public expect the government to be conducted “properly, competently and seriously”.
Johnson’s lengthy reply to Sunak reflected his deep disappointment in losing a minister who was also a friend until recently.
'I have enormously valued your advice and deep commitment to public service and will miss working with you,' said Johnson, as he praised Sunak’s actions of bringing in the furlough scheme to save jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
Sunak, who was born and grew up in the coastal English town of Southampton, only recently spoke at length about his family’s humble beginnings at the UK-India Awards in Windsor last week.
Referring to Britain as a “rewarding Karma Bhoomi” where “someone like me can become Chancellor”, Sunak spoke of the sacrifices made by his National Health Service (NHS) general practitioner (GP) father Yashvir and pharmacist mother Usha.
“My overriding memory of childhood is how hard my parents worked. Dad was an NHS GP, and worked extra jobs, evenings, and weekends. Almost every night of my childhood, he worked until the early hours, writing up patient notes and referral letters,” he told the gathering.
“Mum owned a pharmacy – Sunak Pharmacy. Our life was built around the business. Out of school, I’d serve customers or do deliveries; help dispense medicines; do the bookkeeping. And every Sunday we’d pile into the car to clean the shop, all of us together, the whole family. It was a family business – that’s just what you do,” he shared.
The Oxford and Stanford University alumni entered politics just before the Brexit referendum in 2016 and has been MP for Richmond in Yorkshire since 2015.
He moved into junior roles in the UK’s Treasury department before being promoted to the top job of Chancellor in February 2020, just weeks before the UK was forced into its first pandemic lockdown.
He proved hugely popular as he brought in several grants and job-saving schemes, but that popularity began taking a hit in recent months as the cost-of-living crisis hit and he was unapologetic about the need to raise certain taxes to cope with the tough economic times.
His own personal wealth and that of his Indian wife, Akshata Murty – who owns considerable shares in father Narayana Murthy’s co-founded firm Infosys – were brought under the scanner as the UK media turned hostile.
It forced Murty to give up her legal non-domicile tax status to also pay taxes on her Indian income in the UK, something she did to avoid the issue being a “distraction” for her husband’s political career.
His family had already moved out of No. 11 Downing Street to their home in Kensington, to be close to school for their daughters Krishna and Anoushka.
Sunak will now join them and take his place on the backbenches in Parliament, from where he may well be expected to voice criticism openly against his former boss.
A reference in his resignation letter that he recognises this “may be my last ministerial job” has raised some question marks about his future plans in UK politics.
But a day is a long time in politics, so it remains to be seen how his career unfolds amid the ongoing Conservative Party turmoil. PTI AK VM AKJ VM VM
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