Boris Johnson’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings is expected to leave his position by the end of the year.
Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s most powerful adviser, will step down by year-end, reducing the sway of Brexit hardliners as Johnson tries to recast his premiership after a series of failures in tackling the coronavirus pandemic.
Johnson is grappling with a battle between factions over the future course of the government just as he struggles to contain Europe’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, establish a rapport with new U.S. president-elect Joe Biden and master the delicate diplomacy of a last-minute Brexit trade agreement.
Cummings, who masterminded the 2016 Brexit referendum vote and Johnson’s 2019 landslide election win, told the BBC that he wanted to be largely redundant by the end of this year, once Britain has left informal membership of the European Union.
Critics said that while the upheaval in Downing Street was unwelcome at a time of national crisis, the announcement marked the end of Cummings’ policy clout.
“I think that Dom now, so far as Westminster is concerned, is a busted flush,” said one Conservative MP who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The exit of Johnson’s presiding right hand man marks one of the most significant changes to the prime minister’s inner circle to date: Cummings was cast by some as Johnson’s “brain” – a figure who wielded pivotal influence.
A committed Brexiteer, he was seen by European diplomats as a hardline influence on Johnson over Brexit and the proponent of Madman Theory – a reference to former U.S. president Richard Nixon’s attempt to contain the Soviet Union during the Cold War by convincing Moscow that he was irrational.
Asked once if he was the Thomas Cromwell of British politics – a reference to King Henry VIII’s most feared adviser, Cummings chuckled.
Who is Cummings
- Dominic Cummings, 48, ran the pro-Brexit Vote Leave campaign in the EU referendum and was behind the group’s “take back control” slogan
- Prior to the referendum he worked for Iain Duncan Smith when he was Conservative Party leader and Michael Gove at the Department for Education
- Born in Durham, Mr Cummings went to a state primary school before being privately educated at Durham School. He graduated from Oxford University with a first-class degree in modern history
- A longstanding Eurosceptic, he cut his campaigning teeth as a director of the anti-euro Business for Sterling group and once ran a successful campaign to oppose a regionally elected assembly in north-east England
- He was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in the Channel 4 drama Brexit: The Uncivil War
He rose to prominence in politics first as an adviser to Michael Gove and then as campaign director at the official Brexit group Vote Leave.
His role in the stunning victory for that campaign made him a hero to many Brexiteers, but a hate figure for some Remainers.
His public profile was boosted when he was later portrayed 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.
Johnson hired Cummings 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 Cummings has built a reputation as someone who does not play by the rules of conventional politics.
Cummings also likes to chastise reporters. In 2019, he told Reuters to stop asking about Brexit: “You guys should get outside London and go to talk to people who are not rich Remainers.”
And he can dish out the insults himself, describing David Davis, then the Brexit secretary, as “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus” in July 2017.
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.”
Cummings will be forever associated with Brexit but his lasting legacy may well be a trip to Bernard castle a footnote in the battle against coronavirus.
His disregard for accepted norms, though, was shown when he said he had done nothing wrong by driving 250 miles from London to obtain childcare at a time when Britons were in lockdown, ordered to stay at home to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told BBC Breakfast he was “not particularly surprised” by the announcement, adding that “advisers come and go over a period of time”.
Asked if his departure of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain suggested the prime minister was intending to follow a very different path, Mr Shapps said Mr Johnson had “always taken advice from a very wide range of people and doesn’t always side with the same people at the end of that decision-making process”.
Tory MP Theresa Villiers – who was in cabinet until February – said the chief adviser’s exit offered “an opportunity for a fresh start” and a “more collegiate” approach from No 10.
She told BBC News: “There is no doubt that both Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain were pretty dismissive of backbenchers, and on some occasion ministers and secretaries of states as well, and I don’t think that was helpful.
“I do think it is important whoever takes over from these two has a different approach.”
Writing in his blog in January 2020 to encourage “weirdos” to work in No 10, Mr Cummings said he wanted to “improve performance” in government in order to “make me less important – and within a year largely redundant”.