UK PM urged for government reset after top aide’s exit row
London: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being urged by his Conservative Party colleagues to unleash a reset at the heart of government after weeks of bitter power struggles ended in the immediate departure of his top aide Dominic Cummings.
Cummings, considered Johnson’s right-hand man as the Chief Strategy Adviser, was expected to quit by Christmas next month, but reports on Saturday emerged of a 45-minute showdown which ended in him being pictured walking out of 10 Downing Street with a box in hand on Friday night, symbolic of an unceremonious end of a job.
“Lots of my colleagues are hoping for a new relationship – more openness and interaction with Parliament – and I am told the Cabinet is hoping to get more say as it were in events,” said David Davis, a senior Conservative Party MP and former Brexit Secretary.
He welcomed Johnson’s “decisive action” in removing Cummings, an extremely divisive figure within the party ranks, and called on him to “reset government” free of his influence.
It is widely believed the exit of pro-Brexiteer Cummings, credited with seeing Johnson through a landslide General Election win in December 2019, could pave the way for a less hard-line stance at the heart of government.
According to reports, Johnson sat down with Cummings and his close ally Lee Cain, who had resigned earlier in the week as Director of Communications after an offer to be promoted to Chief of Staff was withdrawn, and concluded that it was best for the duo to leave right away rather than next month as their presence was upsetting the work atmosphere within Downing Street.
Cummings, 48, and Cain, 39, are veterans of the Vote Leave campaign and worked closely with Johnson to deliver the Brexit vote during the 2016 EU referendum. They are said to be officially on “gardening leave”, with Cummings reportedly continuing to work from home on the coronavirus testing programme until next month.
The Sun newspaper claims there was a “shouty” confrontation between the UK Prime Minister and Cummings over the ousting of Cain and that a “livid” Johnson wanted both out “sooner rather than later”.
The Daily Telegraph said tensions within No. 10 were running high, with Cummings accused of briefing against the Prime Minister and his fiancee Carrie Symonds – a former Conservative Party communications chief.
Symonds is believed to have led a quiet and calculated female-centric rebellion against the very “laddish” culture propagated by the Cummings and Cain brigade at 10 Downing Street.
Her ally, former journalist Allegra Stratton, is set to take centrestage as the face of Johnson’s communications strategy with new televised briefings expected to kick-start in the New Year.
The dramatic series of events, which have been playing out for weeks behind closed doors and spilled out into the public domain earlier this week, come ahead of crucial Brexit talks with Brussels with the transition period deadline of 31 December looming.
A majority of Conservative Party members are overjoyed at the exit of a team of advisers who wielded too much power at Downing Street and have urged the UK prime minister to use this as an opportunity to restore Tory party values.
Senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin said it was time to restore “respect, integrity and trust” to the relationship, elements which had been “lacking in recent months.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Cummings’ influence had led to “a ramshackle operation in the hands of one man”.
“Both Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain were pretty dismissive of backbenchers and sometimes ministers and secretaries of state, and I don’t think that was helpful,” said Theresa Villiers, a former minister.
“I do think it’s important that whoever takes over has a different approach,” she added.
Johnson’s official spokesperson insisted the prime minister was not distracted by the row, and was “focused” on getting the country through the coronavirus pandemic.
The Opposition Labour Party, however, accused the ruling party of presiding over chaos and having no focus on responding to the pandemic.