A piece in today’s Times:
Boris Johnson was urged yesterday to get a grip on his warring Downing Street factions as Conservative unease grew about the influence of Carrie Symonds, his fiancée.
Senior Tory MPs said that there was “bemusement” at the departure of Oliver Lewis, the prime minister’s former adviser on the Union, after he was accused of briefing against Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister.
Dan Rosenfield, Johnson’s new chief of staff, has also received negative briefings, with some inside Downing Street accusing him of cutting out other key aides from meetings.
The MPs called on Johnson to get a grip on his staff before an expected government reshuffle. “Even cabinet ministers don’t really know what’s going on in there,” one source said. “Until last week we felt things had generally been improving since Dan Rosenfield came in. But now he appears to be in the line of fire as well.
“The critical thing is that this doesn’t feed through into the really serious things the government needs to get a grip on in the next few months.”
In a warning to Johnson, Lord Barwell, who served as Theresa May’s chief of staff, said that only the prime minister could bring an end to the disputes.
“I find this deeply depressing,” he said. “Working at the heart of government is a privilege, not a chance to play student politics. The only person who can stop this factionalism is the PM.”
A right-wing Tory think tank called for an inquiry into the influence of Symonds yesterday after allegations emerged that she was behind the appointment of several key Downing Street aides. It was also suggested that she had forced out Lewis, who helped to negotiate Johnson’s Brexit deal.
Lewis, who was close to Dominic Cummings, resigned after being accused by the prime minister of briefing against Gove following the appointment of Lord Frost as a Brexit minister with a seat in the cabinet.
The Bow Group, which has Lord Tebbit and Lord Lamont among its patrons, called for an independent investigation into the “unelected and unaccountable” influence that Symonds exerts.
Ben Harris-Quinney, chairman of the group, said: “She has not been elected, she has not been appointed, she holds no legal or constitutional powers to make decisions relating to who should hold government posts. Yet consistent reports in the press suggest that Ms Symonds is taking a central role in running the country, without any authority or accountability.”
Some on the right of the party are known to share the group’s concerns but Sir John Redwood, another of the think tank’s patrons, dismissed the intervention as a “very bad idea”.
He told The Mail on Sunday: “The PM is responsible for who advises him and he is quite entitled to take advice from anybody he likes.”
With Scottish elections less than three months away Johnson will need to move swiftly to replace Lewis, who is the second head of Downing Street’s Union unit to resign in a month after the departure of Luke Graham, the former Tory MP who was leader until he was replaced by Lewis.
Before Lewis was appointed Rosenfield is understood to have suggested that the post should have been filled by a civil servant rather than a political adviser to integrate the team into the wider government machine.
Johnson rejected that proposal, however. Another source suggested that after the departure of Lewis tensions were expected to ease but Johnson would have to intervene if the briefing wars continued.
“Boris has got one hell of a lot on his plate,” the source said. “He can’t really be bothered with any form of intrigue. He just wants people to do things.”
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