Chief aide accuses Prime Minister of ‘dithering’ as he is ordered out of Downing Street.
[Torygraph source so Owl gives this “great weight”]
By Gordon Rayner, Political Editor 13 November 2020 • 9:00pm www.telegraph.co.uk
Dominic Cummings was ordered out of Downing Street for good on Friday night after being accused of briefing against the Prime Minister.
Mr Cummings, until now regarded as Boris Johnson’s most trusted adviser, left with a broadside against his boss, telling allies Mr Johnson was “indecisive” and that he and Lee Cain – who resigned as director of communications earlier in the week – had to rely on the Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, to make decisions.
Mr Johnson’s chief adviser cleared his desk after a lunchtime meeting in Number 10 and left the building for the last time carrying his possessions in a cardboard box. Mr Cain was also asked to leave in the same meeting.
Both men had intended to stay in Number 10 until the end of the year to see out the Brexit project that had brought them and Mr Johnson together, but the last straw reportedly came after Mr Johnson heard claims that the faction headed by Mr Cummings and Mr Cain was briefing against him and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
They will remain employed until mid-December, with Mr Cummings expected to complete some work on mass testing, but neither is expected to set foot in Number 10 again.
Multiple sources claimed Mr Johnson had accused the two men of being behind negative briefings, but Mr Cummings called the claims “invention”, adding: “We had a laugh together.”
Mr Cain described the meeting as “warm” and said Mr Johnson had said it would be better for “morale” if there was a clean break. He later posted a picture on social media of a pair of Brexit boxing gloves he said the Prime Minister signed for him after the meeting.
It came after a fortnight of highly damaging leaks and poisonous briefings that have culminated in an ongoing Cabinet Office inquiry into who passed secrets of discussions about the second coronavirus lockdown to the media.
After Mr Cummings resigned on Thursday evening, allies had complained of “dithering” by Mr Johnson, saying they had to go round him to Mr Gove to get decisions made.
They are also known to have spread rumours that Mr Johnson had lost his powers of concentration after being hospitalised with coronavirus earlier in the year, and that Ms Symonds “bombards” him with texts setting out her opinions on policy up to 25 times per hour.
Sources said Mr Johnson was particularly riled by newspaper reports of Ms Symonds being referred to by nicknames including “Princess nut nuts” by Cummings loyalists.
Sources loyal to the Prime Minister accused Mr Cummings of “trying to blame everyone but himself” for his demise, saying his complaints of dithering by Mr Johnson were simply “the occasions when the PM won’t do what he wants him to”.
One source said: “The truth is that Dom will pay no attention to something for months, then he will get interested in it and expect it to happen in two or three days. That’s not how Government works. When he says Boris is indecisive, what he actually means is that Boris won’t do something he wants. That’s not the same thing – it’s just the Prime Minister saying no to him.”
Mr Cummings had formally resigned on Thursday, a day after his closest ally Mr Cain had also handed in his notice. It came after Ms Symonds and Allegra Stratton, Mr Johnson’s press secretary, vetoed the promotion of Mr Cain to chief of staff.
The departure of the Prime Minister’s two most long-standing aides marks not only the rancorous end to a relationship forged in the Vote Leave campaign five years ago but also a new beginning for Mr Johnson’s premiership.
Lord Udny-Lister, his chief strategic adviser, was on Friday installed as interim chief of staff while Mr Johnson searches for a permanent incumbent for a job originally offered to Mr Cain.
Whoever becomes his permanent right-hand man or woman will play a major role in shaping the Johnson Government between now and the next general election, while Ms Stratton wants a “reset” of Downing Street’s relationship with the public and the media.
Ms Stratton, who emerged as the winner in a bitter power struggle with Mr Cain, is determined to soften the image of the Government and supports Ms Symonds’ determination to push the green agenda alongside the core aim of “levelling up” the country.
Mr Johnson’s decision to keep Mr Cummings and Mr Cain employed until mid-December means he will still exert some measure of control over them while the Brexit trade negotiations play out.
Dominic Cummings walks along Downing Street after leaving Number 10 Credit: Yui Mok/PA
There had been fears among some of the Prime Minister’s supporters that Vote Leave alumni could attack the Government from the sidelines if a Brexit trade deal that they do not agree with is signed.
It is also likely to mean the Cabinet Office will retain access to both men if they want to take evidence from them for the ongoing leak inquiry. Mr Cain is understood to have been cleared of blame for the leaking of the Government’s plan for a second lockdown, but the inquiry continues.
Although both men are expected to do some work from home in their final weeks of employment by Number 10, one source said: “We don’t expect to see them back in the building.”
On Friday, Downing Street hit back at suggestions that the Prime Minister’s Brexit stance would soften in the final days of trade negotiations as a result of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain leaving Number 10.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Absolutely not. The Government’s position in relation to the future trade agreement has not changed. We want to reach a deal, but it has to be one that fully respects the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.
“Time is in very short supply. We are clear the transition period will end on December 31, there’s no doubt about it. We would like to get a deal. If we’re not able to reach a free trade agreement, then we will leave on Australian-style terms.”