A power struggle at the upper echelons of the British government has ended with two of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top aides quitting within 48 hours of each other.
Mr Dominic Cummings, who was chief adviser to Mr Johnson, was photographed leaving the PM’s official residence at 10 Downing Street on Friday, two days after communications director Lee Cain said he was resigning. Both Mr Cummings and Mr Cain, said to have combative working styles, are close allies. The two men and Mr Johnson had worked on the Vote Leave campaign in 2016.
A promotion to be the PM’s chief of staff offered to Mr Cain is at the heart of the power struggle.
The possible appointment sparked protests from ministers, advisers and even the prime minister’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Mr Cain was offered the position after he objected to Mr Johnson’s appointment of Ms Allegra Stratton as press spokesman.
He felt Ms Stratton’s job, which was to deliver White House-style televised press briefings, was a challenge to his work as she reports to Mr Johnson directly.
Here is a look at the key players in the latest drama surrounding No. 10 Downing Street:
Mr Johnson brought Mr Cummings and Mr Cain into the government after the Brexit referendum in 2016. Mr Johnson supported Mr Cummings in May, after The Guardian reported that Mr Cummings had broken lockdown rules amid the Covid-19 pandemic, despite calls from MPs for the adviser to quit.
Rumours that the relationship between Mr Johnson and his top aide was breaking down came on Friday, before Mr Cummings quit, when sources told the Daily Telegraph that the aide said at a briefing that Mr Johnson was “indecisive” – an account that Mr Cummings had rubbished.
Mr Cummings had been criticised for his abrasive working style, which included hurling insults at politicians on his personal blog.
Mr Cummings was in the spotlight earlier this year for driving 418km from London to his parents’ farm in County Durham and an earlier trip to Barnard Castle, a beauty spot, in March, during a Covid-19 national lockdown.
He was also reportedly upset that Mr Cain was denied the post of chief of staff.
Mr Cain was Mr Johnson’s communications director, and had banned ministers from talking to media outlets that he considered pro-remain in the Brexit struggle, such as Radio 4’s Today programme and Channel 4 News.
His pugnacious style with MPs and special advisers meant a number expressed outrage over his potential promotion, The Guardian reported last Thursday.
The report added that Mr Cain had been thinking about leaving Downing Street after the Covid-19 outbreak because of the relentless nature of the job and clashes with Ms Stratton – until Mr Johnson made the promotion offer.
The Guardian on Thursday reported that Ms Symonds, who has a son with Mr Johnson, and Mr Cummings represent “opposite ends of the power struggle raging at the heart of No. 10”.
She had reportedly criticised Mr Johnson’s decision to promote Mr Cain to be chief of staff, a move that upset Mr Cummings.
Another Guardian report the same day noted that Mr Cain and Ms Symonds, a former press officer with the Conservative Party, had also previously clashed, but no details were provided.
Ms Stratton, a former BBC journalist, had reportedly opposed Mr Cain’s promotion to chief of staff, the BBC reported earlier. She was appointed by Mr Johnson in early October to be his spokesman for journalist briefings, a role that Mr Cain had wanted to go to journalist Ellie Price, also from the BBC.
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