UK PM’s top aide to exit amid Downing Street power struggle

Aditi Khanna
·3-min read

London, Nov 13 (PTI) The disquiet caused by a power struggle at the very top of the UK government, which spilled out into the open earlier this week with a high-profile exit from Downing Street, intensified on Friday as it emerged that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s senior-most aide is to also resign.

Dominic Cummings, one of Johnson’s most influential and high-profile aides as his Chief Strategy Adviser, was initially said to be leaving by Christmas next month but reports emerging from Downing Street on Friday evening indicated that he is to leave with immediate effect.

His close ally, Lee Cain, who had resigned as Johnson’s communications chief earlier in the week with plans to formally step down by the end of this year is also believed to be on his way out right away.

Cummings is yet to formally announce his resignation but a Cabinet minister had earlier confirmed that he is on his way out.

“He'll be missed... but advisers come and go,' UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News.

'In any government, you require people who are going to shake things up and come up with ideas, and he's actually been that person,' he said.

As part of Johnson's top team, Cummings is widely credited with helping secure the UK PM’s thumping General Election victory in December 2019. The largely behind-the-scenes influencer found himself in the limelight earlier this year when he was accused of breaching lockdown rules by making a trip from London to the north east of England, at a time when he feared he could have contracted coronavirus.

There were resounding calls for him to step down or be sacked but he instead hosted a press conference to deny allegations of wrongdoing.

In a blog post in January, Cummings had hinted that he planned to leave his role by the end of the year, saying he hoped to make himself 'largely redundant' by then. However, according to sources being quoted across the UK media, the exit of one of his own close allies in Downing Street – Lee Cain as the No. 10 Director of Communications – had precipitated his exit plans.

Commings and Cain both worked with Johnson as part of the Vote Leave campaign during the 2016 European Union (EU) referendum and are seen as instrumental to the Brexit outcome. They are widely regarded to have since led a Vote Leave faction of colleagues in Number 10 and other parts of government.

Lee Cain had announced he would step down as Johnson's top media aide on Wednesday night after ministers and advisers, including Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds, are said to have protested over his planned promotion to Chief of Staff.

Symonds, a former head of communications for the ruling Conservative Party, is believed to be unhappy with the influence of some of her husband-to-be’s closest aides.

The high-profile departures from Johnson’s top team follow the appointment of former BBC journalist Allegra Stratton as Downing Street's new TV spokesperson who will be hosting White House style briefings from the New Year. Symonds is said to be close to and more aligned with Stratton’s way of working.

Johnson is looking to fill the post of Chief of Staff as part of a wider reorganisation at the very top of his government structure. However, several members of Parliament from within the Conservative Party have expressed dismay at the internal wrangling of No. 10 spilling out into the public domain.

It comes at a time of growing unease on the Tory benches at the government's handling of the pandemic and the economic damage being caused by the current lockdown in England.

But Johnson’s official spokesperson, James Slack, who will replace Cain when he departs in the New Year, tried to diminish the reports of any bitter power struggles behind closed doors.

'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,' he said. PTI AK NSA