Rishi Sunak blamed for embarrassing Boris Johnson leak as Chancellor eyes leadership bid

Boris Johnson grilled on Downing Street garden photo

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The gathering took place in May 2020 while Covid restrictions at the time banned Britons from mixing with more than one person in an outdoor public place, keeping two metres apart. While the Prime Minister has insisted the picture shows a work meeting and no lockdown rules were broken, it has heaped pressure on the Government.

Mr Johnson has already been suffering severe backlash over allegations of a series of other illegal gatherings in Downing Street last year.

Yesterday Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said whoever had leaked the picture clearly wanted to “damage the Government”.

The hunt is now on to find the culprit deliberately looking to undermine Mr Johnson.

There is suspicion over the role of Mr Sunak’s team in the leak, with a number of people mischievously pointing out the photo appears to have been taken from the first floor of Number 11, where the Chancellor’s team is based.

Ed Balls, the former Labour education secretary who was Gordon Brown’s economic adviser in the Treasury, posted on Twitter: “I’m pretty sure this is the view from the 11 Downing Street first floor balcony…”

Old floor layouts of Downing Street appear to back up the theory.

Meanwhile, a source inside No10 told The Telegraph: “It has to be taken by someone associated with the Chancellor.

“It is the Chancellor’s bit of the Downing Street complex.”

However, a Treasury insider told the publication it would be wrong to suggest the photo came from one of its officials.

They said: “At the time the picture was taken there was no one occupying that room.

“It is never locked and anyone working in Downing Street could have accessed the room which was often left empty.”

For months Tory MPs have believed Mr Sunak is preparing for a future leadership run.

They see his slick image and personal PR as the preparations for a run to take over from Mr Johnson at some point in the future.

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Last week the Prime Minister’s approval rating sunk to an all-time low, according to the pollsters YouGov, with accusations of illegal gatherings at Downing Street largely blamed for the drop in support.

His net favourability rating fell to -42.

Last night, Mr Johnson defended the picture from May last year, saying the photo showed “people at work talking about work”.

He told broadcasters: “Those were meetings of people at work talking about work.

“This is where I live, it is where I work.

“Those were meetings of people at work, talking about work.

“I really think it is vital that we focus if we can on the message we are trying to get across today.

“We face a serious spike in Omicron and we are seeing the cases going up in London, particularly the cases of hospitalisations.”

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