What does Dominic Cummings' No 10 departure mean and who could replace him?

14 November 2020, 00:41

Dominic Cummings has left his role as Chief Advisor to Boris Johnson
Dominic Cummings has left his role as Chief Advisor to Boris Johnson. Picture: PA

By Maddie Goodfellow

Boris Johnson's chief adviser Dominic Cummings has left his role in Downing Street following an alleged power struggle in Number 10. But what does his departure mean and who could replace him?

Mr Cummings now has only another few weeks working for the Prime Minister, with sources saying he will leave in mid-December, although he cleared his desk on Friday.

Chief adviser Mr Cummings left just a day after Number 10 head of communications Lee Cain.

The pair are close political allies, having worked together since the Brexit campaign before heading into Number 10 when Boris Johnson became PM in 2019.

But what does Cummings' departure mean for Downing Street, and who could replace him?

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Dominic Cummings left just one day after Head of Communications Lee Cain
Dominic Cummings left just one day after Head of Communications Lee Cain. Picture: PA

What happened?

Dominic Cummings says he always intended to depart at the end of the year, and had forecast such a plan in a blog he wrote in January, but all the signs are his timing has changed after losing out in a power struggle among the Prime Minister's inner circle.

He is thought to have wanted his close ally Lee Cain - the No 10 director of communications - to be installed as Mr Johnson's chief of staff.

But the proposed move infuriated many senior Tories - and, it is said, the Prime Minister's fiancee Carrie Symonds - who were alarmed at the prospect of Mr Cummings extending his influence.

When this failed to work, Mr Cain - who feared he was being sidelined with the appointment of Allegra Stratton as the new press secretary - announced he was quitting.

Mr Cummings says reports he threatened to resign on the spot are an "invention", but he was clearly very unhappy at what happened.

Within a little over 24 hours, he was telling reporters he would be going at the end of this year.

He said his "position hasn't changed since my January blog" in which he said he hoped to be "largely redundant" by 2021.

Reports suspected that both he and Mr Cain, who resigned as communications chief, will still be employed until the middle of December, although reports suggested Mr Cummings would be working from home.

Boris Johnson has lost two of his top advisors
Boris Johnson has lost two of his top advisors. Picture: PA

How will it affect the running of Downing Street?

It is not clear yet how it will affect government business - although some at Westminster are predicting it will lead to a less confrontational style of government with a greater focus on issues such as climate change and building bridges with the devolved administrations.

Unhappy Tory MPs, who have felt ignored by No 10 since the election, will hope Downing Street will begin including them.

Others expect there will be less inclination on the part of the Government to pick fights across a range of institutions - from the BBC and the wider media to the judiciary.

Whether it works out that way remains to be seen.

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Mr Cummings was regarded as being more powerful than most ministers, exerting control over the Government's agenda and demanding iron discipline from the army of Whitehall special advisers.

As Vote Leave campaign director he is regarded as the mastermind behind the 2016 Brexit referendum result, and is credited with playing a key role in last year's general election victory.

But his abrasive manner and open contempt for MPs and officials earned him many enemies in Westminster, who will not be sorry to see him go.

What changes could we see in No 10?

There has been talk of the Prime Minister looking to “soften” the government’s image and repair some of the damage done to the relationship with Tory backbenchers.

The government is also reportedly looking to reshape the Policy Unit with talk of the PM's current policy chief, Munira Mirza, moving to the House of Lords and being replaced with a new face.

These shifts are said to be part of a wider push within Downing Street to dial down the "culture wars" that has characterised Boris Johnson's government.

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It has been speculated that the arrival of Boris Johnson’s new press secretary and the departure of two of the prime minister’s closest aides marked a fresh direction for Downing Street and a reset of its communications strategy.

Allegra StrattonStratton is understood to have objected to Cain’s approach, arguing he wanted to cut journalists out of proceedings, making the briefings “cosmetic and pointless”.

Who could Boris Johnson's new advisors be?

Sir Edward Lister has reportedly been appointed Chief of Staff until a permanent appointment is made.

Sir Edward has been serving as the Prime Minister's chief strategic adviser, and several weeks ago was involved in negotiations with leaders in Greater Manchester over coronavirus restrictions.

However, no official replacements have been announced to take over Dominic Cummings' role.

James Slack, who is currently the Prime Minister's official spokesman, aready confirmed he would be taking on Mr Cain's role as director of communications when he departs.

LBC's Westminster correspondent Ben Kentish said that "the biggest question now is who will assume the mantle."

"The Prime Minister is now expected to appoint a more traditional chief of staff to oversee the running of No 10 and his government," he commented.

"Whoever assumes that role will play a hugely significant part in British politics in the weeks, months and probably yes to come.

"Boris Johnson will no doubt hope that whoever it is proves less controversial than the man they will, in effect, by replacing."

Who are the key players in Boris Johnson's top team now?

Sir Edward Lister

Sir Edward Lister was announced as the interim chief of staff, pending a permanent appointment, on Friday evening.

Sir Edward has been serving as the Prime Minister's chief strategic adviser, and several weeks ago was involved in negotiations with leaders in Greater Manchester over coronavirus restrictions.

A long-term ally who also supported Mr Johnson during his time as Mayor of London, Sir Edward served as deputy mayor of London between 2011 and 2012 and was nominated for a peerage in July 2020.

James Slack

Currently the Prime Minister's official spokesman, Mr Slack confirmed he would be taking on Mr Cain's role as director of communications when he departs.

Previously a Daily Mail journalist, Mr Slack held the same official spokesman role during Theresa May's premiership as a member of the permanent civil service.

Allegra Stratton

A former broadcast journalist, Ms Stratton has not long worked in Number 10, having been recently recruited to the newly formed role fronting the upcoming televised press briefings.

She made the switch from journalism to Whitehall earlier this year, after being recruited as Rishi Sunak's communications chief at the Treasury in April.

Her hiring was reportedly a move that Mr Cain opposed and he took it as a blow to his authority, and long-simmering tensions in No 10 began boiling over.