Conservative MPs have hailed Dominic Cummings’ departure from Downing Street, saying they hope it could mark a change of approach in No 10.
Following the resignation of Lee Cain as Boris Johnson’s head of communications, Cummings denied he would immediately follow his close ally and fellow veteran of the Vote Leave campaign out of the door.
Cummings told the BBC that “rumours of me threatening to resign are invented”. However, he also said his “position hasn’t changed since my January blog”.
In the 2 January post, which announced the intention to hire data scientists and “assorted weirdos” to work inside No 10, Cummings said the recruitment drive was intended to “improve performance and make me much less important – and within a year largely redundant”.
One source confirmed Cummings’ departure, saying he had “started talking about it a couple of months ago”. They said: “I think it was always predictable that there would be a big bust-up and Dom would leave. He’s done that in most jobs he’s been in.”
It is understood that rather than resigning voluntarily or being forced out, the departure appears to be a combination of the two, with Cummings accelerating plans to leave amid deteriorating relationships and a fear he could be sidelined.
Cummings has proved a hugely controversial figure in No 10, remaining doggedly in his post even after being accused of breaking coronavirus lockdown rules, and seen as the figurehead of a Downing Street operation that many Tory MPs view as over-centalised, reluctant to listen and lurching from crisis to crisis.
Sir Bernard Jenkin, the senior Tory backbencher who chairs the Commons liaison committee, which scrutinises the work of government, said his departure was a chance to restore “respect, integrity and trust” between No 10 and Tory MPs.
“It’s an opportunity to reset how the government operates and to emphasise some values about what we want to project as a Conservative party in government,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m not surprised in a way that it is ending in the way it is. No prime minister can afford a single adviser to become a running story, dominating his government’s communications and crowding out the proper messages the government wants to convey. Nobody is indispensable.”
Cummings, like Cain, is expected to stay until Christmas. His focus will be on overseeing the “moonshot” plan for mass coronavirus testing, in which he is heavily invested.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said Cummings was leaving because both the mass testing programme and Brexit were “on the near-term horizon now”. He told Sky News: “He will be missed, but then again we’re moving into a different phase.”
The infighting in No 10 has dismayed many Conservative MPs. Cain decided to leave after other aides and Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, blocked his promotion to chief of staff.
The senior backbencher Sir Roger Gale said Downing Street should be “concentrating all of its efforts on the pandemic and on the endgame of Brexit”, and called for Cummings to be ousted in favour of a proper chief of staff.
“Frankly, this is a distraction that cannot and should not be allowed to take place, and the prime minister has got to get a grip on it,” he said.
One MP who asked not to be named said: “They’re children. Ideologues and self-obsessed fools.” Another, also speaking anonymously, said the prime minister should shoulder the blame for internal rows at such a pivotal time for the country.
“The view from a lot of colleagues today is that we are witnessing the end of hope in Boris as a second-term PM,” they said. “He has left a vacuum at the centre of government and that is being filled by Cummings, who does not like the Conservative party, and his fiancee, who lives above the shop. It’s like the script from a bad soap opera.”