Four ex-prime ministers snub Boris Johnson’s Chequers dinner with only Theresa May agreeing to go

John Major and David Cameron join Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in turning down centenary reunion

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 18 September 2021 18:08
Boris Johnson holds first Cabinet meeting after reshuffle

Four former prime ministers have turned down invitations to a centenary dinner at Chequers – leaving Boris Johnson to host only Theresa May at his country retreat.

The prime minister had hoped for a rare gathering of all the surviving occupants of No 10, to mark 100 years since a UK leader first enjoyed staying at the lavish Buckinghamshire country home.

But Tony Blair and Gordon Brown turned down the offer of the reunion and it has now been confirmed that John Major and David Cameron have also said they are unable to attend.

It means Mrs May will be the only ex-prime minister at the celebration, making for an uncomfortable get-together for Mr Johnson with his predecessor, although Sir John’s wife Norma will be among other guests.

The last time the pair met at Chequers it prompted his resignation as foreign secretary from her Cabinet over her doomed Brexit proposals in 2018.

She has since become among his fiercest backbench critics, including over the shambolic retreat from Afghanistan and the decision to counter China with the new Aukus alliance with the US and Australia.

In July, she was among the leaders of the Conservative revolt over the £4bn-a-year cuts to overseas aid, accusing the government of “turning its back on the poor”.

The dinner is to mark 100 years since David Lloyd George became its first prime ministerial to occupy Chequers.

Since 1918, an invitation to the retreat has become the biggest honour the prime minister can bestow on visiting foreign leaders.

Mr Blair hosted US presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush there, after Sir John entertained Russian president Boris Yeltsin, while Ms May brought Donald Trump to Chequers.

It is said that Angela Merkel went for a countryside ramble with David Cameron, who ended up having to help the German Chancellor climb over a barbed wire fence.

Chinese president Xi Jinping pulled a pint in the nearby Plough pub and, after another long Sunday lunch there, Mr Cameron’s motorcade famously left his young daughter Nancy behind.

A government source confirmed to The Independent that Sir John and Mr Cameron had followed Mr Blair and Mr Brown in missing the Saturday night dinner.

The taxpayer contributes £916,000 a year towards the upkeep of Chequers, which is mainly staffed by members of the armed forces.

But the prime minister has to pay for food, drink and entertainment themselves – prompting complaints from some about the cost of playing the host.

Nevertheless, most prime ministers and their partners consider Chequers to be one of the best perks of the job and Mr Johnson is driven there most weekends.

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