BBC Breakfast: Jeremy Hunt challenged over tax bill concerns
Downing Street has failed to pour cold water on rumours Jeremy Hunt is planning on quitting ahead of the General Election to avoid a humiliating election night defeat.
The Chancellor, whose Surrey constituency is under threat from the Liberal Democrats, is reportedly fearful he may experience a ‘Michael Portillo’ moment on election night, in scenes reminiscent of the 1997 toppling of the then-Defence Secretary.
Today Mr Hunt attempted to shut the rumours down, which were published on Sunday, with a spokesman saying: “He’s not resigning as Chancellor, and he’s standing in the next election”.
However Downing Street later fanned the flames of speculation, with a noncommittal statement to journalists that “the Prime Minister and Chancellor are working extremely closely together on the autumn statement”.
The PM’s spokesman added: “Obviously we wouldn’t speculate on constant reshuffle speculation.”
READ MORE: Jeremy Hunt has tax cut ‘wiggle room’ as borrowing lower than expected
The statement notably failed to back the Chancellor’s position for the long-term.
On Sunday, the Observer said “several senior sources nationally and locally” told the paper they expect Mr Hunt to announce he is stepping down nearer to the election.
The speculation also raised questions about whether Rishi Sunak could afford to have Mr Hunt stay on as Chancellor until the election.
The Prime Minister is expected to conduct a wide-ranging Cabinet Reshuffle at some point in the next few weeks, despite only recently shaking up his top ministers.
The reshuffle to appoint Grant Shapps to replace Ben Wallace as Defence Secretary – and Claire Coutinho as Net Zero Secretary – was much less far-reaching than Mr Sunak is believed to have wanted.
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Mr Sunak is now under renewed pressure to get a new, fresh top ministerial team in place following last week’s humiliating double by-election defeat.
A minister told the Mail it is time to “clear out the dead wood” and “grab the change agenda”.
The timing of the reshuffle is not known, though Sky News’ Sam Coates has been told he can be “highly confident” it won’t be this week.
It’s therefore likely Mr Sunak’s Government will announce a raft of new policies in next week’s King’s Speech, only for the PM to then sack senior ministers who were intended to implement them.
An insider has said civil servants are already preparing “welcoming packs” to brief new ministers.
Jeremy Hunt was brought in as chancellor following Liz Truss’s sacking of Kwasi Kwarteng, in a last-ditch attempt to rescue her premiership.
It was then thought by the incoming Sunak administration that dispatching him would once again spark turmoil in the markets.
Mr Hunt is expected to deliver his Autumn Statement next month, though it’s believed tax cuts are not on the cards.
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