Rishi Sunak’s allies are now freely admitting this is the most difficult period since he became chancellor, and it could be about to get worse.
Some have been canvassing whether the chance of even higher office is now dead. They worry he could have handled many aspects of recent weeks better – and express surprise that he does not appear to have better answers to the inevitable questions his family’s wealth was bound to bring.
He is learning who his friends are – fewer perhaps in the cabinet than once were. His position is lonelier after a conspicuous silence at points during the prime minister’s partygate woes, and the emergence of other rivals for the crown in the increasingly unlikely event Boris Johnson is ejected from office.
Sunak says his wife is being smeared and has done nothing wrong over non-dom row
Some close to Mr Johnson have not forgotten and are still quick to criticise and pass judgement.
There are divisions among allies. A council of war was held asking whether he should come publicly out fighting or keep his counsel.
Some suggested he avoid fuelling the fire on multiple fronts but yesterday he pressed ahead with an interview in The Sun, saying: “It is a confusing situation that she is from another country.”
Rishi Sunak says his wife is being smeared and has done nothing wrong in row over her non-dom tax status
Sir Keir Starmer: Rishi Sunak has ‘very serious questions to answer’ over wife’s tax affairs after non-domicile status report
Rishi Sunak has donated more than £100,000 to his old boarding school Winchester College
And then there have been personal sacrifices. The chancellor has decided not to go to his Californian bolthole over this parliamentary recess, despite the speculation he might. Yorkshire beckons again for him, having failed to get to the US over Christmas and complaints he desperately needs a holiday.
This all weighs heavy on him and those around him, but none of it generates the anger and angst felt by Mr Sunak as having his wife, Akshata Murty, take centre stage in a national debate about propriety.
The prime minister’s spouse, Carrie Johnson, may often find herself in the news, having herself previously held political roles, but Ms Murty has never felt such exposure. He lets his anger show – identifying himself with Will Smith who slapped a critic of his wife.
The Sunaks have operated as a couple for much of their professional lives – making philanthropic donations together to his old school Winchester College, Stanford Business School where they met, and her undergraduate university Claremont McKenna – but she has never had the exposure of some political spouses.
Seen around parliament at events as recently as three weeks ago, she has kept out of the limelight despite her exceptional wealth.
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Now that is under the spotlight at the most inconvenient moment, with the confirmation she has “non dom” status, which allows those born abroad to pay a lump sum and avoid tax on earnings overseas.
At a time when families struggle with every bill, even the appearance of wealth can draw criticism from large parts of the political spectrum, feeding into the political question over whether Mr Sunak understands the everyday struggles now of ordinary families.
Friends of Mr Sunak may rail and look for enemies, and ask if there is a coordinated campaign against him. The answer may involve less of a conspiracy, as tough times mean Mr Sunak – who found fame and popularity for his generosity in the pandemic despite his instincts as a fiscal hawk – was always bound to face greater scrutiny.
Now he is vulnerable to a wide variety of issues being used against him to suggest he is not in touch with struggling Britons.
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One such issue is the nature of his relationship with the United States, where he has one of his homes.
Sky News has been told that Mr Sunak and his wife held US green cards, permitting him residence, until more than a year into his chancellorship – before then giving it up during his period at the Treasury.
Holders of a US green card are required to pay US tax on their worldwide income, and to pledge the US is their forever home.
The US government website says the card is only for people who “make the US your permanent home” – which would be odd for someone holding multiple jobs in government, including local government minister, chief secretary to the Treasury, and chancellor.
A source close to Mr Sunak said “neither of them have green cards”, but refused to answer questions over whether they had them during any of his period as chancellor.
Meanwhile, Mr Sunak suggests the ultimate family destination will be India – telling The Sun “that’s where she, you know, ultimately will want to go and look after her parents as they get older”.
No one doubts this has left the chancellor in a weaker spot than just two months ago when many touted him as a possible replacement for Mr Johnson.
There is an alternative universe where Mr Sunak struck early and hard against the man next door, resigned over his unhappiness at partygate and challenged the PM for the top job, rather than coded criticism and conspicuous absences.
He will never know now if that was the better course.