Boris takes back control after Cummings exit

13 November 2020, 17:20 | Updated: 14 November 2020, 22:23

Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Boris Johnson is seeking to take back control of Downing Street amid calls for a "reset" following the immediate departure his key advisers.

The turmoil in No10 caused by the exit of Dominic Cummings, as well as Vote Leave veteran and communications director Lee Cain, leaves room for a reboot of the Prime Minister's administration post-Brexit.

Senior Tories have called on Mr Johnson to use the departure of the pair to "reset the Government" following complaints the party and Parliament were not being listened to during Mr Cummings' time as senior adviser.

Both Cummings and Cain are expected to remain in position until mid-December, but with their influence waining and other figures set to fill the void.

Reports have suggested Mr Cummings will be working from home to avoid friction while the Downing Street shakeup continues.

Rumours about why the senior aide quit have been circulating throughout the British media on Saturday, with one report suggesting the PM was angered by claims a No10 faction, headed by Cummings and Cain, had been "briefing against him" and his fiancee Carrie Symonds, who they allegedly labelled "Princess Nut Nuts".

Read more: 'Not before time': MPs react to departure of Dominic Cummings

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Read more: Why has Dominic Cummings quit Downing Street?

Sir Edward Lister has been announced as the interim chief of staff until a permanent appointment is made.

Mr Cummings left his north London home on Saturday afternoon but only spoke to reporters to ask them to move out of his way, and did not answer any questions.

He was seen getting into a Toyota Prius which drove away from the scene.

Earlier, his wife Mary Wakefield came outside and told reporters he "would not come out" in the rainy weather.

Mr Cummings had previously said that "rumours of me threatening to resign are invented" after speculation that he would quit. However, he said that 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.

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The Prime Minister's official spokesman, James Slack, who will replace Mr Cain when he leaves in the new year, continued to insist that Mr Johnson is not being distracted from the national crisis by the row.

"What the Prime Minister and the Government are focused upon is taking every possible step to get this country through the coronavirus pandemic," he said

There were calls for Mr Cummings to quit earlier this year when he flouted lockdown measures by controversially driving up and down the UK despite having Covid-19 symptoms.

After the Prime Minister's chief adviser was seen leaving No10 carrying a box of his belongings, Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey tweeted: "Not before time".

Earlier reports that he would resign before the end of the year prompted Tory MPs to hail the opportunity for a fresh start for the Prime Minister, with senior Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin saying it was an opportunity to restore "integrity and trust" and that "nobody is indispensable".

Dominic Cummings was pictured leaving his north London home on Saturday afternoon
Dominic Cummings was pictured leaving his north London home on Saturday afternoon. Picture: PA

Transport Secretary 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."

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.   

Prominent Tory backbencher MP Tobias Ellwood said: "Let's move a little bit away from EastEnders and more to the West Wing."

Mr Cummings was widely criticised in May after making a 260-mile journey during the coronavirus lockdown to his parents' house in Durham.

He was spotted in the city - almost 300 miles away from his London home - despite having had symptoms of coronavirus, a joint investigation by the Mirror and The Guardian revealed.

It was confirmed on 30 March Mr Cummings was self-isolating after experiencing symptoms, and the government had told the nation people should be staying at home, and not be visiting elderly relatives who were at greater risk from the virus.

It has been reported Mr Cummings has told colleagues he travelled to Durham after he and his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms so his parents could look after their young son.

His wife, journalist Mary Wakefield, later wrote an article describing their time in isolation - but made no mention of the trip to Durham.

Mr Cummings was the adviser who refused to play by the rules of conventional politics and became no stranger to the spotlight.

His rise to political prominence came as part of Michael Gove's team, but it was his role as campaign director at the official Brexit group Vote Leave which boosted his public profile.

This may have been helped by the portrayal by Benedict Cumberbatch in a Channel 4 drama about the campaign, which played up his role in covering a red bus with the hotly-disputed £350 million-a-week for the NHS claim.

After the Brexit vote, Mr Cummings became a folk hero to many who voted to Leave, and he was hired by Boris Johnson as senior adviser at Number 10 when he became Prime Minister in the summer of 2019.

The appointment of the abrasive former campaign director raised eyebrows in Westminster, especially given he had been found to be in contempt of Parliament earlier in the year for refusing to give evidence to MPs investigating misinformation, and was a noted critic of the Whitehall machine.

But Mr Cummings has built a reputation as someone who did things differently, working on his goal of reshaping Whitehall, issuing a recruitment call for data scientists, economists and "weirdos and misfits with odd skills" to shake up the Civil Service.

He was no stranger to being on the end of blunt insults, and was once called a "career psychopath" by former prime minister David Cameron, according to widely-reported remarks.

And he was not afraid to dish them out either, describing David Davis, the then-Brexit secretary, as "thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus" in July 2017.

This April, Mr Cummings was back in the headlines when it emerged he had been present at meetings of the official Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies co-ordinating the Government's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Downing Street insisted there was nothing untoward about his attendance, but opposition MPs and some scientists suggested it risked political interference in science-based advice from Sage.

Steve Baker, a former chairman of the Leave-backing European Research Group, described him as a "dominant figure who regards accountability with contempt".

Writing for The Critic Magazine, he said: "To work for Dom - to obey - is to be respected, to be part of a brilliant, driven team. Dominic cultivates heartfelt and ferocious loyalty, as Vote Leave's board found when they rightly tried to sack him for regarding accountability with disdain.

"And that, right there, is why I have always opposed Dominic being in Number 10."