Dominic Cummings’ Downing Street exit part of an ‘episode’, says minister

By Shaun Connolly and George Ryan, PA Political Staff
·4-min read

A Cabinet minister has branded events surrounding the dramatic departure from Downing Street of Boris Johnson’s senior aide as “an episode” in the Prime Minister’s time at Number 10.

Environment Secretary George Eustice insisted the sudden exit of Dominic Cummings would also have no impact on crucial Brexit negotiations.

Days of turmoil in Downing Street cumulated in Mr Cummings walking out carrying a cardboard box a day after Mr Johnson’s director of communications Lee Cain resigned.

Mr Eustice told Times Radio: “It’s also the case – and this is no secret – that when you’re in more steady-state times and you need to build alliances, build relations with others, well that’s less Dominic’s forte and I think he would say that himself.

“Dominic Cummings is a force of nature. He will do his own thing, I’m sure. But look, as far as we’re concerned, there’s obviously been an episode.

“He’s chosen to leave. I’ve no reason to suspect he’ll be writing a blog.”

Mr Eustice said Mr Cummings “tends to apply himself in short bursts”, adding that it is up to the Prime Minister who will be among his key advisors.

He told Sky News: “I’ve known Dominic Cummings myself for many years. He’s got many great strengths and one of them is winning campaigns.

“And he tends to apply himself in short bursts, short tours of duty, on big strategic changes such as the 2016 referendum result, such as the 2019 general election.

 George Eustice
Environment Secretary George Eustice (PA)

“And he’s very talented at that. But it’s always the Prime Minister’s prerogative who will be their key advisors.”

Mr Eustice insisted talks with the EU on a future trade deal would not be affected by the departure.

“The negotiations have been led by David Frost from the beginning. He’s got a very talented, experienced team of technical experts around him.

“He’s led these negotiations from the start and obviously remains in place and continues to do so.

“So I don’t actually think the departure of Dominic Cummings makes any impact on the negotiations, since Lord Frost has been leading those.”

Lee Cain resigns
Dominic Cummings, left, and Lee Cain (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Mr Johnson is understood to be now aiming to reassert control over his Government by meeting with concerned Conservatives.

Deputy chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, Sir Charles Walker, insisted that MPs were “not all idiots”.

He told Times Radio: “I’m meant to pick up on colleagues’ concerns and the concerns were that actually, you know, we don’t feel part of this journey and that’s not a good place for a government to be in… and when you don’t feel part of a journey problems start to arise.

“It’s just a feeling that there are people at Number 10 who are interested in what we think and want to relay what we think back to the Prime Minister who can’t always be in the tea room and around.

“We accept that. But, you know, Members of Parliament are not all idiots. I know we can be caricatured as idiots and that sells newspapers but we’re not. We’re deeply in touch with our constituencies.”

The Sunday Times reported the PM will “attempt to get his premiership back on track” by establishing a policy board that will appeal to northern working-class voters who helped Mr Johnson win his majority in last year’s general election.

The paper said the group will be chaired by Harborough, Oadby and Wigston MP Neil O’Brien, who helped former chancellor George Osborne devise the Northern Powerhouse, and added that Mr Johnson is expected to meet the Northern Research Group of MPs on Monday to listen to their concerns.

It comes after leading Tory MPs urged the PM to use the change of personnel to “reset the Government” following complaints the party and Parliament were not being heard during the time Mr Cummings held sway.

According to reports, tensions were heightened in Downing Street last week when the Prime Minister was shown “hostile texts” briefing against his fiancee Carrie Symonds, which had been forwarded to her.

Mr Cain, a veteran of the Vote Leave campaign with Mr Cummings, had been on the verge of being named Downing Street chief of staff before his resignation.

Sir Edward Lister was announced as the interim chief of staff pending a permanent appointment, with the Times reporting chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, Lord True and Lord Bridges of Headley are being considered for the role.

The dramatic events came as Brexit heads into a crucial phase next week, with the UK team of negotiators running out of time to seek a trade deal with Brussels before the end of the transition period on December 31.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman, James Slack, who will succeed Mr Cain as director of communications in the new year, has insisted Mr Johnson was not being distracted by the row over his staff.