Dominic Cummings ‘is set to resign’ after No10 meltdown: Boris Johnson’s chief adviser ‘will follow his ally Lee Cain out of the door in the New Year’ after the Prime Minister reportedly talked him out of quitting this week
- Dominic Cummings to quit Downing Street in the New Year after Lee Cain ousted
- The Prime Minister talked Mr Cummings out of resigning immediately yesterday
- Boris Johnson had initially offered to promote Mr Cain to become chief of staff
- But he dropped the plan following objections from his partner Carrie Symonds
- Mr Cain, an ally of Mr Cummings, was Mr Johnson’s director of communications
The Prime Minister talked Mr Cummings out of resigning immediately following the departure of No 10 communications director Lee Cain on Wednesday night.
Mr Johnson had initially offered to promote Mr Cain to chief of staff, but dropped the plan following objections from his partner Carrie Symonds – prompting Mr Cain to quit.
Allies of Mr Cummings, who worked with Mr Cain on the Vote Leave campaign, predict he will follow suit within weeks, once the Brexit transition period ends on December 31.
‘This will loosen Dom’s grip on government and hasten his departure,’ a source said.
‘He wants to get Brexit over the line, get over the hump of the pandemic and get one or two of his pet projects locked in. Once that is done, he won’t hang around.’
Downing Street dismissed claims that Mr Cummings will quit next year as ‘speculation’ – but other senior figures close to Mr Cain remain on ‘resignation watch’, including chief Brexit negotiator David Frost.
Dominic Cummings (pictured) is set to quit Downing Street in the New Year after Lee Cain ousted
Boris Johnson had initially offered to promote communications Lee Cain to become chief of staff. But he dropped the plan following objections from his partner Carrie Symonds (pictured with Mr Johnson)
Mr Cain, an ally of Mr Cummings, quit after Mr Johnson’s change of heart yesterday. He was Mr Johnson’s director of communications
The web of connections in Downing Street, which has been reeling from factional infighting during the coronavirus crisis
Who’s who in the civil war between Cummings’ Brexit Boys and the ‘Carrie Symonds crew’
Cummings pictured outside Downing Street in one of the outfits that has made him an unlikely style icon
Official title: Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister
Boris Johnson’s maverick Svengali, who gained national notoriety for his lockdown-breaking trip to Barnard Castle to ‘test his eyesight’ before a trip back to London.
The former Vote Leave director backed his former campaign staffer Lee Cain to take over as the PM’s chief of staff – prompting a bitter wrangle with Johnson’s girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, who warned it would be a ‘mistake’.
Cummings, who is known for his acerbic demeanour and preference for hoodies and ‘slob’ style jackets over suits, eventually lost the vicious tug-of-war, prompting Cain’s resignation and speculation that he could follow.
He is known to have a difficult relationship with Symonds, with reports earlier this year suggesting she was opposed to his aggressive approach to politics and tendency to ‘pick unnecessary fights’ which could harm the PM’s image.
Mr Cummings was born in County Durham and is married to Mary Wakefield, a senior journalist with the Spectator magazine, a Tory bible that Boris Johnson once edited.
Cummings ally Cleo Watson seen outside No10
Official title: Head of the Prime Minister’s Priorities and Campaigns
It has become a familiar ritual in Downing Street: photographers clamour to take pictures of elegant Cleo Watson as she strides towards the No 10 door with a dishevelled Dominic Cummings, the pair looking, as one wag put it, like ‘a gazelle with a pit pony’.
Watson is Cummings’ special adviser and the pair share a close relationship, with one Whitehall source describing her as ‘the Cummings whisperer’ because she is one of very few people who can calm him down when he flies into a rage.
Watson is one of five high-achieving sisters from an extraordinary family whose story could come from a Jane Austen novel. Indeed, she is the second of her siblings to work closely with a Tory leader. Her sister Annabel, 41, known as Bee, was Theresa May’s Chief of Staff.
Watson worked with Vote Leave during the 2016 EU referendum, before landing a top job in the policy unit in No 10 during May’s premiership.
She remained at the heart of Government under Johnson and now boasts the title of ‘Head of the Prime Minister’s Priorities and Campaigns’.
Oliver Lewis is another Vote Leave member to now work in No10
Oliver Lewis (nickname ‘Sonic’)
Age: Late 20s
Official title: Brexit policy adviser
A former Vote Leave staffer, Brexit policy adviser Oliver Lewis is a close ally of Cummings – who is known to address him by the nickname ‘Sonic’.
Oxford-educated Lewis has been working closely with Michael Gove on No Deal preparations, and was inspired by Cummings’ love of science to construct an enormous spreadsheet to model difference scenarios styled on techniques used by NASA.
He has also worked closely alongside chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, and earlier this year was accused by EU sources of repeatedly trying to shut down negotiations, according to The Sun.
After backing his mentor in his quest to install Cain at the top of Downing Street, Lewis has also become embroiled in the ugly fallout following Symonds’ victory.
Reports today suggested he was also ‘seriously considering’ his position.
Carrie Symonds – seen at a Remembrance Day service in Whitehall on Sunday – has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in Downing Street
Official title: NA
Boris Johnson’s fiancee and a former Conservative Party head of media, Symonds has emerged as a force to be reckoned in No10.
She is known to have a difficult relationship with Cummings and blocked his bid to install his ally Lee Cain as the PM’s chief of staff, insisting this would be a ‘mistake’ given how the campaign against the pandemic had gone so far.
A brutal stand-off ensued before Symonds emerged as triumphant – with Cain announcing his resignation and Cummings said to be also considering his position.
Symonds grew up in west London and attended Godolphin and Latymer School, an independent day school for girls, and the University of Warwick.
She worked for the Tory party from 2009, before hitting the headlines when her affair with Mr Johnson, 56, came to light.
A passionate conservationist, she had a direct impact on government policy after a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off, a move that saved thousands of the animals.
Allegra Stratton is poised to become the face of Boris Johnson’s new US-style TV press briefings
Official title: No10 Press Secretary
Allegra Stratton, the former journalist poised to become the face of Downing Street’s first US-style televised press briefings, was the cause of the power struggle that erupted.
After her appointment, she insisted she would be answerable to the PM only, not Cain. With the former Daily Mirror journalist fearing he was about to be side-lined, Boris offered him the role of chief of staff.
That’s when Stratton and her allies stepped in, determined to prevent that happening.
Stratton is a respected former journalist for the Guardian and ITV among others, and helped Chancellor Rishi Sunak craft his public image before being poached by No10.
Stratton is a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan elite who was educated at Latymer Upper School in London (fees, £21,000 a year) and studied anthropology and archaeology at Cambridge. She is married to James Forsyth, the political editor of the Spectator.
Interestingly, while Cain has been mocked for dressing as a chicken to stalk former Tory leader David Cameron in the 2010 election, footage has recently emerged of Stratton also dressed as one, dancing at a high-spirited Westminster party where veteran political pundit Andrew Neil led the conga.
Munira Mirza is the phenomenally-bright head of No10’s Policy Unit
Official title: Director of the Number 10 Policy Unit
Munira Mirza is the highly respected and phenomenally bright head of the Downing Street policy unit.
A long-time Boris aide dating back to his time as London mayor, she prefers to work away from the limelight, but is also said to have made her opposition to Cain’s appointment clear.
The Oldham-born academic is a popular figure around No10. ‘She has a huge brain but wears it lightly. Boris listens to her,’ according to one source.
Mirza’s family came to Britain from Pakistan, with her father finding work as a factory while her mother taught Urdu part time.
She attended Breeze High School and Oldham Sixth Form College, where she was the only pupil to gain a place at Oxford, where she studied English Literature.
A former member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, Mirza is now one of the members in Johnson’s circle, and was named by the PM as one of the five women who have shaped his life.
A source last night said that while Lord Frost was unhappy about Mr Cain’s departure, he would not be quitting as talks with Brussels enter their final stages.
Tory MPs warned Mr Johnson that the chaos in No 10 was undermining public confidence in the Government.
Sir Roger Gale said it was ‘extraordinary and unacceptable that Downing Street should allow itself to be distracted by internal squabbles’ in the midst of a pandemic.
He added: ‘Frankly this is a distraction… the Prime Minister has got to get a grip on it.’
Other MPs urged Mr Johnson to ditch his special adviser.
One said: ‘If they have got rid of one of the Kray brothers they have got to get rid of Cummings as well. To use a well-known phrase, Boris should take back control and be the real Boris that so many of his genuine friends and supporters believe he can be.’
The Prime Minister also faced questions over Miss Symonds’ role in Downing Street.
‘The question on everyone’s lips is “who will she go after next”… it looks like senior appointments now have to be approved by Carrie,’ an insider said.
‘That is a dangerous path for the Government to go down.’
Another adviser said the episode reflected poorly on the Prime Minister.
‘It is disappointing that he has failed to return the loyalty of his most loyal lieutenant when the going got tough,’ they said.
‘It begs the question – who is making the decisions now?’
Describing the row as ‘pathetic’, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: ‘We’re all worried about our health and families, we’re all worried about our jobs… and this lot are squabbling behind the door of No 10.’
The departure of Mr Cain follows the appointment of a new press secretary to the Prime Minister.
Allegra Stratton will begin to carry out daily US-style televised media briefings on Mr Johnson’s behalf in the New Year.
Fearing this would leave him sidelined, Mr Cain offered to resign last week.
Mr Johnson urged him to stay on, having come to rely on the former tabloid journalist – whose previous jobs include dressing as a chicken to follow David Cameron on the campaign trail.
On Monday evening the Prime Minister offered Mr Cain the vacant job of Downing Street chief of staff.
The move was backed by both Mr Cummings and the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, who argued that Mr Cain had been fulfilling part of the role for months.
However, news of the appointment was leaked to the Mail – prompting a furious backlash from senior Tories, who feared it would further embolden a Vote Leave faction contemptuous of the role of MPs.
Crucially, it also sparked objections from Miss Symonds, who dislikes Mr Cain’s abrasive style.
She told her fiancé it would be a ‘mistake’ to give him a promotion.
As news of the row behind the scenes became public, Mr Cain decided his role was untenable.
He will stay in post until the end of the year, when he will be replaced as director of communications by former Mail journalist James Slack, currently Mr Johnson’s official spokesman.
The Prime Minister is reportedly keen to drop the aggressive style adopted by the Vote Leave campaign, and hopes to use televised briefings to ‘reset’ the Government’s image after a bruising year.
Ministers have been harshly criticised for their handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has included a string of U-turns on everything from A-levels to free school meals.
Mr Cummings himself hit the headlines in May, when he was forced to hold a press conference to justify his decision to drive more than 260 miles to Durham during the first national lockdown.
It comes as yesterday Torries were predicting Cummings could be next out of the Downing Street door today after an extraordinary civil war erupted in public – threatening to derail Boris Johnson’s desperate struggle to control coronavirus.
There are also claims that Allegra Stratton, Downing Street’s new on-screen press secretary, and senior aide Munira Mirza fought the move, while there had been a huge mutiny from Tory backbenchers angry about lockdown policies and a series of humiliating U-turns on issues such as free school meals during school holidays.
It would have meant the PM’s core circle being exclusively male.
Mr Cummings turned up to work in No10 as usual this morning despite losing the latest tug of war for the premier’s ear, and blanked questions about his own future.
But senior Tories said it was clear that Mr Cummings was losing his grip on No10, and would soon be departing.
One jubilant Conservative MP told MailOnline the ‘grown ups have taken back control’. ‘Vote Leave has left!’ they said.
A well-connected Tory peer said it was significant that special advisers had started briefing against Mr Cummings, and suggested he could be looking for an excuse to leave without losing face.
‘There is a revolution happening. Things have clearly started to fall apart,’ they said.
Labour seized on the shambolic scenes, saying No10 officials were like ‘rats in a sack’ and behaving ‘pathetically’ when the country was trying to navigate the worst crisis in generations.
Ms Stratton was said to have only agreed to take the job if she reported directly to the PM, not Mr Cain – leaving him feeling ‘wholly undermined’.
Mr Cain apparently opposed her appointment and the pair had not spoken since she arrived in the role a fortnight ago.
Tory MPs and advisers hailed the news as an opportunity for a ‘reset’ after a ‘tribal and aggressive’ first phase to the Johnson government.
There had been a vicious response when it emerged Mr Cain was in the frame for the top job yesterday, with angry politicians sniping that it was a case of ‘Cain not able’ and another minister saying ‘WTF?!’
In his resignation statement, Mr Cain confirmed he had been offered the powerful post – which allies insisted was ‘basically what he does anyway’ – but after ‘careful consideration’ would be leaving at the end of the year.
He said: ‘After careful consideration I have this evening resigned as No 10 director of communications and will leave the post at the end of the year.
‘It has been a privilege to work as an adviser for Mr Johnson for the last three years – being part of a team that helped him win the Tory leadership contest, secure the largest Conservative majority for three decades – and it was an honour to be asked to serve as the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.’
He also paid a glowing tribute to Mr Johnson’s ‘loyalty and leadership’ and thanked his colleagues at Number 10.
In response to the resignation, Mr Johnson said: ‘I want to thank Lee for his extraordinary service to the Government over the last four years.
‘He has been a true ally and friend and I am very glad that he will remain director of communications until the new year and to help restructure the operation. He will be much missed.’
The former journalist will serve until the end of the year when he will be replaced by the PM’s official spokesman, James Slack.
In a round of interviews this morning, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick desperately tried to play down the situation, insisting the government’s focus was still on the deadly pandemic.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘It’s understandable that journalists, in particular, will be interested in the personalities of who works as advisers within Number 10 Downing Street.
‘But the Prime Minister runs the Government.
‘He is surrounded by a good team, a strong team of advisers, and, of course, the Cabinet.
‘Our sole focus in Government is trying to steer the country through the pandemic.’
He told Sky News: ‘At the end of the day, this is one individual.
‘The Prime Minister runs the Government.’
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove – Mr Cummings’ former boss and still a close ally – was challenged in the Commons over whom he sided with in the extraordinary spat.
SNP Cabinet Office spokesman Pete Wishart said the ‘faceless characters who actually run this country in Number 10 are at each other’s throats’.
Mr Wishart asked: ‘Whose side is he on – Dom’s or Carrie’s?’
Mr Gove replied: ‘I’m on the side of people from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth who voted to leave the European Union, who want us as a United Kingdom to make a success of these new opportunities (Brexit).
How PM’s bullish state-educated ‘Scouser’ Lee Cain and his ‘lad gang’ clashed with Carrie and her inner-circle
He’s the state-educated ex-journalist who once dressed as a chicken to chase David Cameron around the country but went on to be his successor’s media supremo.
Lee Cain is a rare everyman figure in the blue-blooded hierarchy of Old Etonian Boris Johnson‘s No 10 operation before his decision last night to quit as director of communications.
His rise to become one of a limited number of people with the Prime Minister’s ear was stark but he was a divisive figure whose brash style saw him make enemies among Tory politics’ more well-heeled operators.
Mr Cain, who grew up in Ormskirk, a town in West Lancashire close to Liverpool, has developed a reputation as an ardent Brexiteer and helped forge Mr Johnson’s tough stance last year which saw him controversially prorogue parliament in an attempt to prevent pro-Remain MPs blocking a no-deal departure.
He was a key member of a coterie of Vote Leave ‘lads’ installed at the heart of Downing Street when Mr Johnson took power in the summer of 2019.
Having successfully started Britain down the road to leaving the EU by winning the 2016 referendum, the hardcore of the brains behind the Brexiteer organisation fronted by Mr Johnson followed him into No10.
The hardcore of the group was a male quartet; Dominic Cummings, Cain, Oliver Lewis and Rob Oxley, aka Dom, Caino, Sonic and Roxstar.
With a game plan of completely shaking up the internal operations of Downing Street, they formed an inner circle that has been accused of throttling access to the Prime Minister and gaining almost total control over the levers of power.
This set them on a collision path with ministers and MPs, as well as other advisers, especially as Brexit and then the coronavirus pandemic threatened to overwhelm the Government.
And eventually they came together to force him out last night. And the Ormskirk Grammar and Stafford University graduate was apparently forced out by a group including Carrie Symonds, Mr Johnson’s privately-educated fiancee.
‘I know the Scottish Government is a total stranger to behind-the-scenes intrigue and briefing wars, so I can imagine his shock and amazement to see things reported in the newspapers.’
Mr Gove said the Government continues to make decisions in the interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.
Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg said Mr Cain’s departure will be a ‘loss to the Government’.
He told MPs: ‘May I just say what a fantastic public servant he has been, somebody instrumental in ensuring the Vote Leave campaign was successful and somebody who has made a huge contribution to this Government.’
The cordial statements from Mr Cain and Mr Johnson masked disarray at the heart of government, with warring factions competing for influence in Downing Street.
Mr Cummings, who has stuffed the corridors of Number 10 with old Vote Leave allies, was initially thought to be considering his position but has resolved to stay in Government, the BBC reported.
That Mr Cain’s promotion was backed by Mr Cummings is one reason it caused such hostility among MPs.
Tory Chief Whip Mark Spencer was said to have been ‘inundated’ with messages from MPs urging him to intervene with the PM to try to block Mr Cain’s appointment.
One former minister had warned that allowing No 10’s Vote Leave faction to tighten its grip would be a ‘nail in the coffin’ of Mr Johnson’s Government.
Multiple sources said Ms Symonds, 32, had intervened to try to block the appointment.
One said: ‘Carrie has had her own run-ins with Lee, but she’s also been pressured by MPs to stop this.
‘You have to remember she is a former director of communications for the party and has good relations with a lot of senior MPs.
‘She has told the PM giving Lee the job would be a mistake – she’s just been trying to stop him doing something stupid that would damage the Government.’
Another friend told the Times: ‘She knows he runs the operation in an uncollegiate way where few people can get to him.
‘There’s not a diversity of opinion, he is not getting good advice. His top advisers are running him into the ground.’
The appointment was also said to be opposed by other senior women in Downing Street, including Mr Johnson’s policy chief Munira Mirza and incoming press secretary Allegra Stratton. Allies of Priti Patel insisted she had not been involved this week, despite claims she urged against the move.
Election guru Sir Lynton Crosby, who masterminded Mr Johnson’s mayoral victories in London, was also said to have told the Prime Minister to think again.
In another layer of intrigue, No10 is in the middle of a frantic hunt for the ‘chatty rat’ who leaked news of the blanket lockdown for England before a final decision had been taken.
The leak at the end of last month infuriated Mr Johnson, who had wanted to take a few days more to consider whether the draconian measures were necessary. Instead he was forced to summon a Saturday night press conference to confirm what was going to happen.
There are suggestions that ministers have now been ruled out of the formal Cabinet Office inquiry, with advisers in the crosshairs.
Leading Tory backbenchers said there had been long-standing concerns about the Downing Street operation.
Sir Charles Walker, vice chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I think there has been unhappiness about the Number 10 operation for some time.
‘Members of Parliament have felt excluded from the decision-making process, and that’s no secret.
‘The real opportunity here is for the chief of staff position to be filled by someone who has good links with the Conservative Party and its representation in the House of Commons.’
Former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry – a long-term ally of Mr Johnson who fell out of favour earlier this year – said the PM Johnson was ‘stamping his Johnsonian authority’ on Downing Street.
The Rossendale and Darwen MP told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘The departure of Lee Cain does show, I think, that the Prime Minister is taking back control of his government.
‘He’s moving from a campaigning operation to an operation solely focused on good government. I think it’s a good move for the Prime Minister.
‘As we go past that grim milestone, as you say, of 50,000 deaths from this appalling disease, it’s high time, I think, that there was a bit of a change of guard in Number 10.’
Asked about Ms Symonds being opposed to Mr Cain’s promotion, Mr Berry said: ‘I have been in touch with people in the building, that’s not actually completely my understanding of what has happened.’
He said Mr Johnson had a ‘renewed sense of mission’, adding: ‘I think this is a good sign that he is moving away from just being a campaigning government, coming out of the general election, and then the Covid crisis, and really stamping his Johnsonian authority across the Number 10 operation.’
Sir Roger Gale said Mr Cummings was a ‘liability’ and the PM needed a chief of staff in ‘big boy pants’.
The veteran MP said: ‘The Government, and Downing Street particularly, should be concentrating all of its efforts on the pandemic and on the end game of Brexit, and frankly this is a distraction that cannot and should not be allowed to take place, and the Prime Minister has got to get a grip on it.
‘For my money Cummings is a liability and what the Prime Minister needs and deserves is a first-rate chief of staff who is a serious heavyweight, I think the expression currently in use is big boy pants.’
Guto Harri, who worked with Mr Johnson at City Hall, said it was an opportunity for a ‘reset’ to when he was one of the most popular politicians in the country.
‘It’s a chance for a government that is more professional… and far less aggressive and tribal than it has been.’
But Sir Keir Starmer seized on the chaos, telling LBC radio that the country would be ‘scratching their heads’.
‘This is pathetic. I think millions of people will be waking up this morning, scratching their heads, saying what on earth is going on?’ he said.
‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re all worried about our health and our families, we’re all worried about our jobs, and this lot are squabbling behind the door of Number 10.
‘It’s pathetic. Pull yourselves together, focus on the job in hand.’
Downing Street insisted that Mr Johnson remains ‘absolutely focused’ on the coronavirus pandemic despite the infighting inside No 10 leading to the resignation of Mr Cain.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister is fully focused on tackling coronavirus.
‘I think you can see the progress that we’re making in terms of rolling out mass testing, in securing vaccines and also in terms of making improvements to things such as test and trace.
‘So, I think what you can see is the Prime Minister is absolutely focused on beating this virus and taking the measures that are necessary to get that R rate down and bring the infection rate back under control.’
Pressed if the shake-up among senior staff was a distraction, he said: ‘You’ve seen from the Prime Minister this week that he’s absolutely focused on taking all the steps that are required to equip the country to beat coronavirus.’
The crisis had been brewing for weeks with Mr Cain fearing his role could be undermined by the arrival of Ms Stratton, who is due to start daily televised briefings on No10’s behalf in the new year.
Responding to the news of power struggles within No10, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘Pathetic and childish. In the middle of a pandemic, when a few hours ago we reached the tragic milestone of 50,000 deaths.
‘This absolute shower wouldn’t know governing in the national interest if it slapped them in the face.’
Mr Cain is one of Mr Johnson’s most trusted advisers, having been by his side since 2017 when he left Theresa May’s Downing Street operation to work with him at the Foreign Office.
When Mr Johnson quit Mrs May’s Cabinet over Brexit in 2018, Mr Cain continued working with him.
He then helped run his leadership campaign before joining his Government as director of communications.
The two men also worked together during the Brexit referendum in 2016, when Mr Cain was a press officer at the Vote Leave campaign masterminded by Mr Cummings and led by Mr Johnson and Michael Gove.
Last year he ordered ministers to boycott BBC Radio 4’s Today programme because of perceived bias. The ban was only lifted when the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Mr Cain has also imposed a boycott of ITV’s Good Morning Britain that has lasted for more than six months.
This year he sparked a walkout by political journalists after he banned reporters from news outlets deemed unfriendly from attending a No10 briefing with officials.
Mr Cain has developed a reputation as an ardent Brexiteer and helped forge Mr Johnson’s tough stance last year which saw him controversially prorogue parliament in an attempt to prevent pro-Remain MPs blocking a no-deal departure.
But this year it emerged he saw the Vote Leave job as a route into politics rather than a vocation.
A former colleague from his time as a journalist told PR Week: ‘He told me: ‘I just want to get into politics. I’ve applied for two jobs and I’ve got one of them.
‘I’ve applied for head of broadcast for Remain and head of broadcast for Leave. If this ever comes out I’ll be in a lot of trouble’.’