Mr Sunak has maintained a prominent but tight-lipped position in the highest ranks of the Tory party, watching from No 11 as the ‘partygate’ scandal engulfed No 10. Sources inside Downing Street told the Independent Mr Sunak is speaking with MPs and No 10 staff to gauge his chances at party leadership, should Mr Johnson be taken out by a no-confidence vote.
Joseph Robertson, director of the Orthodox Conservatives Group think tank, told Express.co.uk that the Chancellor staying away from categorical public statements has been a strategic move for Mr Sunak – one that has paid off.
He said: “Politically, he’s played a blinder.
“Supposedly on ministerial duties, he actually managed to miss out on voting on the coronavirus passports and therefore have an abstention from that vote, which leaves him entirely up in the air when it comes to public opinion on more libertarian matters.”
Mr Robertson compared the Chancellor’s moves to that of speculated leadership rival, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, and determined Mr Sunak has not misstepped by staying largely away from commenting on the Downing Street lockdown parties allegations.
“He’s managed to remain quiet on the PM scandals.
“Liz Truss actually spoke out in favour of the PM, which in my mind was a slight mistake and a slight overstep because it immediately aligns her with the current cabinet.
“I think Rishi is probably the one who’s played the best game of ambiguity, so nobody quite knows what his intentions are.
“That actually makes him not necessarily the favourite, but certainly the person who can work from the outside and ensure he’s building the right contacts behind the scenes without causing controversy in the public mind. So he’s definitely got a very good chance.”
READ MORE: Fury as EU checks cause record border delays for lorries
She added she “100 percent” supported the Prime Minister and believed him to be doing an “excellent job”, despite rumblings of her ambitions to succeed him.
Although currently in COVID-19 isolation, Ms Truss has been working closely with the Prime Minister over escalating tensions in Ukraine, and was scheduled to join Boris Johnson in a state visit to Kiev this week.
However, Mr Robertson described a cooler relationship between No 10 and No 11, believing them to have “died down” compared to previous moments in Mr Johnson’s premiership.
He commented: “They’re not as bullishly brotherly as they were before.
“That’s not to say that the Prime Minister doesn’t still have Sunak onside for what he’s trying to do.
“It merely means the PM has had a lot of other issues to deal with and hasn’t been looking to Rishi to be that big-spending bulwark of the last two years.
“He hasn’t been needing Rishi to prop up businesses like he did before.
“And therefore I think he’s been sidelining conversations with him for a little bit to focus on other issues and ensure his own leadership is first priority.”