Friends of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, the Vote Leave duo who were forced to resign last week after losing a power struggle with the Prime Minister’s fiancee, say that they have questioned Mr Johnson’s ability – and desire – to stay in No 10.
One said: ‘You can smell it. It’s the end of days. It’s a story as old as time. The Mad Queen destroys the court.’
Friends of Dominic Cummings (pictured leaving No10 on Friday) and Lee Cain, the Vote Leave duo who were forced to resign last week after losing a power struggle with the Prime Minister’s fiancee, say that they have questioned Mr Johnson’s ability – and desire – to stay in No 10
Another senior figure in the Vote Leave camp added: ‘The feeling is that Rishi’s time is drawing close’ – a reference to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s thinly veiled leadership ambitions.
But a friend of Ms Symonds hit back, describing the criticism of her influence over Mr Johnson as ‘rank misogyny’, and decrying the ‘vitriol and bitterness’ directed at her.
Boris loyalists plan to use the departure of the two aides as a chance to rebuild both the No 10 operation, under a new chief of staff, and Mr Johnson’s relations with his fractious parliamentary party.
Last week’s war of words broke out after Mr Johnson attempted a reshuffle to stop Mr Cain from feuding with Allegra Stratton, the public face of Downing Street’s new daily televised press briefings, which are due to start in the New Year.
After Mr Cain offered to resign over Ms Stratton’s demands for independent access to the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson discussed moving him to a new chief of staff position – only for Ms Symonds to play a pivotal role in a party uprising against the plan.
Ms Symonds, a friend of Ms Stratton’s, objected to Mr Cain’s appointment on a number of grounds, including an alleged ‘macho culture’ he helped to instill.
Boris Johnson’s ousted aides have privately predicted the ‘beginning of the end’ for the Prime Minister following the extraordinary row which broke out over the influence of Carrie Symonds (pictured with the Prime Minister in March)
Mr Cummings attempted to save Mr Cain by also threatening to resign, but his actions were in vain: he left Downing Street for the last time on Friday evening carrying a cardboard box.
No 10 denied reports that the pair had been ordered out for briefing against Ms Symonds – including using the insulting term ‘Princess Nut Nut’.
Mr Johnson feared the pair would ‘poison the well’ if they were allowed to remain in their jobs until the end of the year as initially planned, and they will be on gardening leave until mid-December.
Allies of the Prime Minister fear Mr Cummings will now set up a ‘guerilla operation’ with his former Vote Leave allies designed to destabilise his operation, and pave the way for Mr Sunak’s succession.
One member of that group said last night: ‘It’s the beginning of the end. Boris has lost the room.’
It was reported Mr Cummings had told allies that the PM was ‘indecisive’, and it was often left to senior Minister Michael Gove to fill the leadership vacuum.
Sir Edward Lister, a long-serving adviser to Mr Johnson, will become chief of staff for an interim period.
After Mr Cain (pictured) offered to resign over Ms Stratton’s demands for independent access to the Prime Minister, Mr Johnson discussed moving him to a new chief of staff position – only for Ms Symonds to play a pivotal role in a party uprising against the plan
Friends of Ms Symonds say she has no regrets about opposing Mr Cain’s appointment because she thinks ‘a more diverse group of voices’ should be advising the Prime Minister.
It’s Nut Nut not Nut Nuts!
‘Princess Nut Nuts’, the cruel nickname for Carrie Symonds used by allies of Dominic Cummings, has been circulating among insiders since Boris Johnson’s early days in Downing Street, sources told The Mail on Sunday.
But reports of the slur, which last week went viral on social media, have one flaw.
‘It’s Princess Nut Nut,’ a source said, before revealing that Ms Symonds’s adversaries used a special ‘shorthand’ for the nickname in text messages during last year’s General Election campaign – an emoji of a princess followed by two peanuts.
Carrie’s adversaries used ‘shorthand’ for ‘Princess Nut Nut’ nickname in text messages using emojis (pictured)
Ms Symonds was reportedly labelled a ‘princess’ for what her foes claimed was regal behaviour while the ‘nut’ is believed to be a poor-taste joke about her being ‘crazy’.
Concerns have been raised over the ‘laddish’ culture in Downing Street under Mr Cummings.
Several sources said staff hoped the shake-up at the top of No 10 will usher in a more respectful environment.
One said last night: ‘Surely it is in the Prime Minister’s interest that he hears from a range of people?
‘That’s the way to have a fairer and more successful operation. What man wouldn’t ask their informed partner for their opinion on something to do with work, particularly when it is a world they have known for many years.’
The friends described the attacks on Ms Symonds as ‘rank misogyny’, adding: ‘The idea that she is a woman and therefore shouldn’t have a voice is unfair.
‘The vitriol and bitterness towards her has been quite something… No 10 has been devoid of senior women and the more rounded opinions which they offer.’
One Cabinet Minister said: ‘The reality is this lot had probably come to the end of the road quite a long time ago. I am convinced Boris in his heart of hearts realises he should have got rid of Cummings back at the Barnard Castle moment.
‘He’s referred to it almost with a sigh. “Things I would have done differently” – it’s on that list.
‘Everyone would have put up with it if Cummings could see round corners. It was his great strength, to have a forensic view of where public attitudes lay. The moment he lost that, his value sunk to nil.
‘He failed to see what the Barnard Castle story was doing, he failed to see where the free schools meals was likely to go. On the big judgment calls, he largely got it wrong.’
The Minister added: ‘The PM shouldn’t be involved in all of this. It should be going on out of his sight. And the fact he’s been dragged into this and has been involved in discussions with everybody including his girlfriend, is probably not the best use of his time or talents. We all know Boris hates this kind of cr*p.’
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis said the relationship between Mr Johnson and Mr Cummings ‘fell off a cliff’. The former Brexit Secretary, described as ‘thick as mince’ by Mr Cummings in 2017, added: ‘Once that’s gone, it’s gone.’
Mr Davis added: ‘Boris will want to reset Government… He’s going to need a new chief of staff who has got to be fiercely efficient but not fiercely political.
‘He’s got to find someone who doesn’t have their own agenda.’
How battle for the job of defending Number 10 in daily TV press conferences sparked the feud between Lee Cain and Carrie Symonds
The flashpoint for the feud between Lee Cain and Carrie Symonds came with the auditions for Boris Johnson’s new press secretary, who will have the unenviable job of defending the Government in daily televised press conferences in the New Year.
Mr Johnson would ring Ms Stratton frequently while she was mulling over the offer, urging her to put her name forward.
From the outset, the Prime Minister – backed by his fiancee – was keen to appoint Allegra Stratton (pictured), a well-connected and experienced broadcaster who has worked for BBC Newsnight and ITV News
Promises were also made to top up her £125,000-a-year Government salary with money from Tory party funds so she could claim parity with the £140,000 pay packets of Mr Cain and Dominic Cummings.
It is also understood Mr Johnson promised Ms Stratton that she would not be subject to the process of a focus group assessment, leading her to object when Mr Cain insisted.
The results were used by Mr Cain to press the case for Ms Stratton’s closest rival for the job, BBC political journalist Ellie Price.
Mr Cain said the focus groups had found Ms Stratton to be too ‘aggressive’ when shown her responses to mock media questions by the selection panel.
The results were used by Mr Cain to press the case for Ms Stratton’s closest rival for the job, BBC political journalist Ellie Price (pictured)
He also made the argument to colleagues that Ms Price had seemed more composed under pressure. Mr Cain’s reservations meant there were inevitable tensions when Ms Stratton was given the job.
He then suggested to Ms Stratton that Ms Price should act as her deputy.
Ms Stratton refused – fearing Ms Price would be used to deputise for her if she refused to follow ‘scripts’ at press conferences suggested by Mr Cain or Mr Cummings. Friends say Ms Stratton has been left shaken by the civil war which has erupted over her appointment.
One friend said: ‘The past three weeks have been a complete nightmare for Allegra.
‘It was clear from the outset that her and Lee would not be able to work together. Lee always looked as if he wanted to rip her head off.’
Is the net closing in on the ‘Chatty Rat’ behind the Covid-19 leak? Officials are ’90 per cent sure’ one of Michael Gove’s team tipped off newspapers that Boris Johnson was going to order a new lockdown, claims senior source
By Glen Owen and Anna Mikhailova
A senior Government source has claimed to The Mail on Sunday that officials on the leak inquiry were ‘90 per cent sure’ one of Mr Gove’s team tipped off newspapers that Boris was going to order a new lockdown – before he had made the final decision to do so.
It led to a scramble to arrange a special Saturday press conference to make the announcement, which was backed by Mr Gove as a pro-lockdown ‘dove’.
A senior Government source has claimed to The Mail on Sunday that officials on the leak inquiry were ‘90 per cent sure’ one of Mr Gove’s (pictured) team tipped off newspapers that Boris was going to order a new lockdown
However, last night a Cabinet Office source denied ‘any one person’ has been ‘singled out’ and cautioned that ‘concrete conclusions might prove to be elusive’.
The source – who said the investigation was expected to finish within a fortnight – also denied claims that technical experts had decided the Gove adviser had deleted call and message records from the Friday evening in question, October 30.
Last week, this newspaper revealed that senior Ministers, including Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock, were ordered to surrender their phones as No 10 hunted for the mole.
Both Ministers were quizzed forensically – and both deny any wrongdoing. Mr Hancock complained to No 10 that he had been unfairly blamed for the leak.
Senior Ministers, including Mr Gove and Health Secretary Matt Hancock (pictured), were ordered to surrender their phones as No 10 hunted for the mole
In comments that reflect the divisions that have rocked the heart of Government over the past few weeks, an ally of Mr Hancock said: ‘No one has done more to bend over backwards and ingratiate themselves with the Vote Leave guys than Matt, and they still hate him.’
Tory MPs said that the name of the ‘chatty rat’, as they have been dubbed, will never be revealed, if rumours are true that the leak came from Downing Street.
One MP said this was linked to the fact that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said on the floor of the House that he had had assurances from Ministers that No 10 was not responsible.
Before his resignation as director of communications last week, Lee Cain was forced to deny claims from MPs that he was the leak, telling friends he had been ruled out as a suspect by Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, who is in charge of the inquiry.
One MP said this was linked to the fact that Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle (pictured) said on the floor of the House that he had had assurances from Ministers that No 10 was not responsible
Sir Lindsay told MPs after the news of the national lockdown emerged: ‘After speaking with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House [Jacob Rees-Mogg], who went to great lengths to assure me that the leaks were not from Downing Street, I expect the Prime Minister to keep the House updated on his leak inquiry.’
The MP said that, if the leaker was subsequently identified as coming from No 10, this would create difficulties for Mr Rees-Mogg and the Prime Minister.
A Cabinet Minister added: ‘No one wanted to confirm it because it almost causes a bigger problem if you know about it than if you don’t.’
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: ‘We can confirm a leak investigation is ongoing. As usual it would not be appropriate to comment further.’