Boris Johnson has one less cabinet split on his hands after it emerged he has instructed two senior ministers to share the grace-and-favour mansion of Chevening.
The 115-room house is traditionally reserved for foreign secretaries, meaning it should have been inherited by Liz Truss when she was promoted in last month’s reshuffle. However, Dominic Raab, whom she replaced, refused to go down without a fight and secured the title of deputy prime minister in addition to his new, more junior, justice secretary title.
Raab reportedly then tried to stake a claim to Chevening himself, citing the precedent that the last person to formally hold the deputy prime minister role was Nick Clegg, who was allowed joint access to the building along with the foreign secretaries during the coalition government years, William Hague and Philip Hammond.
Tanks were figuratively parked on the lawn when Truss posted a picture on Monday showing her strolling through the 3,000-acre estate in Kent with the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
After weeks of wrangling, the prime minister – who is on holiday in Spain – decided to give the getaway to both of the cabinet members laying claim to it.
A source close to Truss said the issue hadnot been a priority and she was focused on more important things, but added: “We are glad to have use of it for hosting foreign dignitaries and putting the UK’s best foot forward.” Truss will be allowed to live in the foreign secretary’s official London residence of No 1 Carlton Gardens.
Johnson has previously deflected questions about the Chevening issue, saying: “The people’s government does not bother with fripperies and foibles of this kind.”
He understands the need for sharing, having had to split access to Chevening three ways when he was foreign secretary under Theresa May. Johnson, David Davis, then Brexit secretary, and Liam Fox, then international trade secretary, were told they would all get access in the aftermath of the 2016 EU referendum.
Despite Johnson being out of the country, when deputy prime ministers would sometimes be called upon to run things, the prime minister’s spokesperson stressed he remained in charge and there was no need for Raab to stand in.
“The prime minister continues to be in charge as is always the case,” Downing Street said on Monday. “He is in regular contact with ministers and No 10.”