Downing Street has admitted that Boris Johnson will not be working on his holiday unless he is needed urgently, after he faced criticism for taking a second break abroad within three weeks amid the energy crisis.
Johnson is believed to be in Greece with his family, despite having just three weeks left in the job amid accusations he is leading a “zombie” government.
In his absence, two large removal lorries turned up in Downing Street on Monday, fuelling expectations that he is likely to spend little further time in No 10. The prime minister is entitled to take furniture and fittings that he paid for in his refurbishment of his No 11 flat, theoretically including the Lulu Lytle gold wallpaper that was initially funded by a Tory donor.
Brandon Lewis, a senior Conservative MP, defended the prime minister’s decision to take a second holiday, after his first break in Slovenia.
“Even when you are not in the office in Downing Street you are working,” Brandon Lewis, who was Northern Ireland secretary before resigning last month, told LBC.
However, Johnson’s official spokesman clarified that he would not be doing routine work as he was “on leave” and would only be contacted if there were “urgent decisions” to be taken.
“As is the way with prime ministers as you know, by virtue of their role they’ll obviously be kept informed on any urgent issues and make decisions particularly those (related to) national security for example,” he said. “If there were urgent decisions that required the PM’s input he will of course be involved in that.”
He said there were no major meetings scheduled for this week that would require Dominic Raab, the justice secretary, to deputise.
No 10 does not comment on the prime minister’s exact whereabouts, but he has been spotted with his wife, Carrie, in a supermarket in Nea Makri, a town to the east of Athens. A week ago, Johnson returned from another holiday, in Slovenia.
While Johnson’s caretaker role during the period when his successor is being chosen limits his scope for making new policy, he has been accused of heading a zombie government, and of spending his final few weeks in office relaxing.
When not overseas, Johnson has spent time at Chequers, the prime ministerial country retreat, and he and Carrie hosted a belated party for their wedding at the Cotswolds home of the JCB owner Anthony Bamford, a major Conservative donor.
Asked on LBC if the PM had “thrown in the towel” Lewis rejected the characterisation.
“He’s probably in about his second week [of] holiday in the last year or so, certainly this year,” Lewis said. “So while somebody is away, whether they are secretary of state or let alone the prime minister, they will be continuing to work.
“I can assure you he will still be going through inboxes, he will still be dealing with national security issues where relevant. Being out of the country does not mean the prime minister stops working.”
Unveiling Labour’s plan on Monday to help households this winter by stopping any increase in the energy price cap, to be financed in part by a wider windfall tax, Keir Starmer called Johnson a “lame duck”, saying that the hopefuls to succeed him, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, were merely “squabbling” rather than presenting a plan of action.
A Labour spokesperson said: “On the evidence of the last few months it seems to make little difference if the prime minister is in the office or on holiday as he has continually failed to meet the challenge of the Tory cost of living crisis. It’s all just one big party for Boris Johnson while the country struggles to pay their bills.”