Dominic Cummings expected to leave No 10 by the end of the year
Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is expected to leave his role by the end of the year after Downing Street became gripped by a bitter power struggle.
The controversial Vote Leave veteran told the BBC that “rumours of me threatening to resign are invented” after suggestions he was preparing to quit alongside communications director Lee Cain.
But he said his “position hasn’t changed since my January blog” when he wrote that he hoped to make himself “largely redundant” by the end of 2020.
Cabinet minister Grant Shapps said Mr Cummings “will be missed” but said he is not surprised that the aide is departing, adding: “Advisers do come and go.”
Meanwhile, the Treasury has settled an employment tribunal claim with a former aide who was fired by Mr Cummings, with the PA news agency understanding that the Government will be paying out a five-figure sum.
The settlement with Sonia Khan, who advised then-chancellor Sajid Javid until she was escorted out of Downing Street by police, means Mr Cummings no longer faces the prospect of giving evidence in the case next month.
One of the most controversial figures in No 10, news of his impending departure came with the BBC quoting a Downing Street source saying he would be “out of Government” by Christmas.
Mr Shapps argued that Mr Cummings, whose infamy was cemented by his trip to Durham during the first lockdown, is leaving because his big projects of coronavirus mass testing and Brexit being “on the near-term horizon now”.
“He will be missed but then again we’re moving into a different phase,” the Transport Secretary told Sky News, adding that “advisers do come and go”.
Highly-publicised in-fighting led to the resignation on Wednesday of Mr Cain, with Mr Cummings said to be contemplating his own exit over the treatment of his political ally from the Brexit campaign.
Mr Cain had been offered the post of chief of staff but a backlash among Tories and the Prime Minister’s inner circle ultimately led him on Wednesday to announce his departure from Number 10 rather than a promotion.
Conservative MPs have urged Mr Johnson to use events to reshape the team inside Downing Street and reconnect with the parliamentary party, some of whom feel he has been “lost” to advisers over the past year.
Sir Charles Walker, vice chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, told BBC Two’s Newsnight: “If Boris, the Prime Minister, gets the chief of staff position right – he gets the right person in that position – he will plant his standard firmly back in the middle of the Conservative parliamentary party.
“We feel we’ve lost him for the last year. We want him back – he belongs to us, he doesn’t belong to the advisers, he belongs to the parliamentary party that elected him and he got elected at the last general election.”
The infighting spilling into the open sparked criticism from Tory MPs.
Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale told the PA news agency: “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.”
And senior Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood told Sky News: “Let’s move a little bit away from EastEnders and more to the West Wing.”
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, James Slack, who confirmed he would be replacing Mr Cain when he leaves in the new year, insisted that Mr Johnson is not being distracted from the national crisis by the bitter row.
“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 on Thursday.
Mr Slack, a former Daily Mail journalist who also served as Theresa May’s official spokesman when she led the country, said he would remain a civil servant when he succeeds Mr Cain.
In his resignation statement, Mr Cain confirmed he had been offered a promotion to the key position of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.
The move – which would have meant he was one of just a handful of people in No 10 with direct one-to-one access to Mr Johnson – was seen as entrenching the grip of the Vote Leave faction on the Downing Street operation.
However it ran into immediate resistance, with Mr Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds – who has clashed in the past with Mr Cummings – reportedly strongly opposed to the appointment.
Ms Symonds is a former Tory press chief who has served as a special adviser in previous governments.
Allegra Stratton, the former broadcaster brought in to host televised No 10 news conferences from next year, was also said to have objected to the appointment.