Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds ‘put him up’ to the attack on his former top aide Dominic Cummings that sparked an extraordinary response accusing the Prime Minister of incompetence, an insider has claimed.
What began as a bitter political battle yesterday turned into a full-on war in Whitehall when Mr Cummings launched a devastating attack on his former boss in an explosive 1,100-word blog.
The Vote Leave mastermind savaged the ‘incompetent’ Conservative leader, who he said had fallen ‘far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves’.
The jaw-dropping attack came as a furious Mr Cummings denied allegations he was the so-called ‘chatty rat’ behind leaks on the second lockdown last November or being behind leaks of the PM’s messages with entrepreneur James Dyson to the media this week.
It is understood the attack on Mr Cummings was personally ordered by Mr Johnson.
One Westminster source claimed Mr Johnson had been ‘put up to it’ by Miss Symonds, who was said to be incandescent about briefings claiming she had tried to damage the careers of young Tory women.
‘This is Carrie flexing her muscles,’ the source said.
Mr Johnson last night said the British public ‘did not give a monkey’s’ about the Downing Street leak blame claims that have rocked Whitehall, as he denied attempting to block an official inquiry into the issue in order to protect his fiancee’s friend.
Asked whether he thought Mr Cummings had leaked details of his contacts with the entrepreneur Sir James Dyson, he told LBC: ‘I don’t think people give a monkey’s about this issue.
‘What they care about is what were we doing to protect the health of the British public and that’s what I care about.’
It came as, in a devastating statement, Mr Cummings effectively declared war on No 10 and turned a flamethrower on Mr Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Amid a series of explosive claims, Mr Cummings accused the PM of trying to stop a serious leak inquiry in order to protect one of Miss Symonds’ closest friends.
He warned the Prime Minister that his alleged plan to get donors to fund a lavish refurbishment of the couple’s flat was ‘unethical, foolish, possibly illegal’.
He said he told his then-boss that the idea ‘almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations’.
Mr Cummings denied being responsible for a series of damaging leaks about Mr Johnson’s administration, and also suggested there should be an ‘urgent Parliamentary inquiry’ into its conduct.
Last night, No 10 issued a robust denial of the claims, with a spokesman insisting that the Government and ministers had ‘acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law’.
Mr Cummings’ broadside came after Mr Johnson personally authorised a No 10 spin operation which blamed his former chief adviser for a string of damaging leaks in recent weeks.
Mr Johnson and Miss Symonds have been incensed by revelations – many disclosed by the Daily Mail – about the PM’s private dealings with Sir James Dyson and Saudi leader Mohammed bin Salman, and the couple’s six-figure redecoration of their No 11 flat.
To add to the pain, Mr Johnson was yesterday shamed into paying up to £60,000 from his own pocket to fund the flat renovation.
The move followed revelations in the Mail that the shortfall had been picked up by the Conservative Party, prompting calls for an investigation by the Electoral Commission.
Boris Johnson (pictured with former aide Dominic Cummings in 2019) last night said the British public ‘did not give a monkeys’ about the Downing Street leak blame claims that have rocked Whitehall, as he denied attempting to block an official inquiry into the issue in order to protect his fiancee’s friend
In an astonishing attack on the Prime Minister Mr Cummings accused him of considering killing off a leak inquiry last November because the evidence pointed at Henry Newman (centre), a friend of his fiancee Carrie Symonds (right). Mr Newman has denied being the source of the leak.
In a devastating statement, Mr Cummings effectively declared war on No 10 and turned a flamethrower on Mr Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds (pictured)
Mr Cummings, who was ousted in a power struggle in December (left), accused Downing Street Director of Communications Jack Doyle (right) of making ‘a number of false accusations’ to the media overnight.
The total cost of the work on the Downing Street flat overhaul is believed to be a five-figure sum
Newspapers were briefed yesterday that the PM believed Mr Cummings was ‘engaged in systematic leaking’ and had become ‘bitter about what’s happened since he left’.
Mr Cummings quit No 10 last year after he and former communications director Lee Cain lost a power struggle with Miss Symonds.
The briefing horrified many Tory MPs, who feared Mr Cummings would retaliate. One MP warned the row could quickly become a ‘fight to the death’.
An ally of Mr Cummings warned that the Prime Minister would ‘live to regret’ his attack on the mastermind of the Vote Leave campaign.
And last night Mr Cummings hit back with an incendiary statement that threatens to destabilise the Government in the run-up to a critical round of elections next month.
He opened up by accusing Downing Street’s new director of communications, Jack Doyle, of making ‘a number of false accusations to the media’ against him ‘at the PM’s request’.
Mr Cummings flatly denied being the source of several leaks. He said he was not ‘directly or indirectly’ behind the leak of personal text messages in which the PM told Sir James Dyson he would ‘fix’ a tax issue threatening to hinder his firm’s participation in a race to develop a new ventilator design at the height of the pandemic last year.
And he said he was willing to share the contents of his mobile phone with a Cabinet Office leak inquiry.
Mr Cummings also denied being the source of the notorious ‘chatty rat’ leak last year, in which the PM’s intention to order a second lockdown was leaked to the Mail before it had even been finalised.
He said Cabinet Secretary Simon Case had told the PM he was satisfied Mr Cummings was not the source of the leak.
And he claimed Mr Case told Mr Johnson that ‘all the evidence definitely leads to Henry Newman and others in that office’.
Boris Johnson made a visit to Hartlepool today. Tory MPs fear he and Dominic Cummings could be headed for ‘mutually assured destruction’ after Number 10 sources accused the PM’s former chief aide of leaking private text messages.
The Mail understands that the attack on Mr Cummings was personally ordered by Mr Johnson. One Westminster source claimed Mr Johnson had been ‘put up to it’ by Miss Symonds (pictured with Mr Johnson in March 2020), who was said to be incandescent about briefings claiming she had tried to damage the careers of young Tory women.
Mr Newman is a senior No 10 adviser and a close friend of Miss Symonds and Michael Gove.
A senior Government source last night said the claims made against Mr Newman were ‘entirely false’, adding: ‘He wouldn’t be working in Downing Street if he was suspected of leaking information.’
Last night it was claimed that some Downing Street officials had insisted that the inquiry into the lockdown leak had concluded that Mr Cummings was the leaker.
It was even claimed that MI5 had been brought in to investigate. Asked on LBC radio last night if he had tried to stop the leak inquiry after being warned it could implicate Mr Newman, Mr Johnson replied: ‘No, of course not.’
Downing Street sources yesterday suggested Mr Cummings was also the source of damaging leaks about the couple’s lavish flat renovation.
But Mr Cummings said the PM had ‘stopped talking to me about this matter’ while still in Government because of his opposition to the idea of trying to fund it via a charitable trust. He said he was happy to co-operate with any Electoral Commission inquiry.
However, in comments likely to be seized on by No 10, he said he would not answer ‘every allegation’ made by Downing Street about his conduct.
In a devastating conclusion, Mr Cummings wrote: ‘It is sad to see the PM and his office fall so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves.’
Ministers are now braced for more devastating allegations when Mr Cummings appears before a parliamentary inquiry into Covid on May 26. Last night he said he would answer questions ‘for as long as MPs want’.
The PM yesterday declined to point the finger at Mr Cummings, saying people ‘aren’t so much interested in who is leaking what to whom as the substance of the issue’.
Former foreign secretary William Hague said Mr Cummings’ allegations could be ‘very damaging’ to Mr Johnson.
He said the former adviser was ‘trying to do as much damage to the PM as possible’.
Downing Street declined to comment on the bombshell statement last night. Mr Doyle and Mr Newman were contacted for comment but did not respond.
Dominic Cummings’ bombshell assault (and why it’s so devastating): Former No 10 aide denies leaking the PM’s Sir James Dyson texts and washes his hands of the Downing Street flat farce
1: Dyson denial
Dominic Cummings opens his statement with a flat denial of No 10’s claim that he leaked text messages from Boris Johnson to Sir James Dyson, in which the PM promised to ‘fix’ a tax problem amid the race to develop ventilators for Covid patients.
Mr Cummings says he does not have copies of the relevant exchanges on his phone and is happy to co-operate with a leak inquiry.
He points the finger at the Treasury, saying officials have told him Rishi Sunak’s department was sent screenshots of the PM’s texts to Sir James.
Dominic Cummings opens his statement with a flat denial of No 10’s claim that he leaked text messages from Boris Johnson to Sir James Dyson
2: Fiancee farce
Mr Cummings claims the PM discussed halting the hunt for the so-called ‘chatty rat’ – who leaked news of a second lockdown – after evidence pointed to a friend of his fiancee.
Mr Cummings stresses that he was cleared of any involvement in the leak by the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case. ‘All the evidence’, he says, led to another No 10 aide: Henry Newman, a close friend of Miss Symonds and Michael Gove. However, Mr Cummings claims the PM warned that sacking Mr Newman would ’cause me very serious problems with Carrie’, and even considered halting the inquiry. The claim was denied last night by No 10.
3: Flat-out wrong
Washing his hands of any involvement with lavish renovations in Downing Street, Mr Cummings again pleads not guilty to leaking.
Playing down suggestions he was the source of damaging stories about the flat’s decor, he says the PM had ‘stopped speaking to me about this matter’ last year because of his opposition to getting donors to pay for it.
His offer to assist with a possible Electoral Commission inquiry into the affair will set alarm bells ringing for No 10, which has made frantic efforts to play down the issue for weeks.
4: I’ll co-operate (a bit)
Here, Mr Cummings says he will co-operate with efforts to get to the bottom of some – but not necessarily all – leaks.
While his statement is shot through with a sense of wounded innocence, his refusal to answer ‘every allegation’ is likely to be seized upon by critics as an admission of some level of wrongdoing.
5: Broadside for Boris
This devastating personal attack on the PM demonstrates just how far relations have deteriorated between the two men.
Having masterminded the 2016 campaign to lead Britain out of the EU, they then delivered the biggest Tory majority since the days of Margaret Thatcher in 2019’s general election.
Mr Cummings claims the PM discussed halting the hunt for the so-called ‘chatty rat’ – who leaked news of a second lockdown – after evidence pointed to a friend of his fiancee
Many are likely to wonder whether Mr Cummings is in any position to act as an arbiter of integrity following his infamous trip to Durham during last year’s lockdown.
6: This is just the start
Mr Cummings calls for an ‘urgent Parliamentary inquiry’ into the conduct of the Government during the pandemic – including the accusations levelled at him this week.
In an ominous development for the PM, he threatens to set the ball rolling when he appears before MPs next month to discuss the handling of the Covid crisis, which he has previously said went ‘catastrophically wrong’.
Dominic Cummings warned Boris Johnson he could be breaking the law if he let Tory donors pay for new decor for his Downing Street flat
By Simon Walters for the Daily Mail
Dominic Cummings told Boris Johnson he could be breaking the law if he went ahead with plans to get Tory donors to pay for new decor for his Downing Street flat.
The Prime Minister’s former No 10 chief of staff said he warned the proposal was ‘unethical, foolish and possibly illegal’ and he had refused to help arrange any such payments.
As a result of him expressing his opposition to the idea, Mr Cummings claimed, Mr Johnson stopped discussing moves with him to get donors to fund the flat refurbishment.
Boris Johnson, pictured with Carrie Symonds, was told by Dominic Cummings the proposal was ‘possibly illegal’
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson’s newly appointed director of communications, Jack Doyle, had ‘made accusations’ about him yesterday
His comments came in a statement issued on his website immediately after the Government revealed yesterday that Mr Johnson had finally been forced to pay from his own pocket towards the cost of the apartment refit.
The PM’s U-turn followed a series of revelations in the Daily Mail since February detailing how the Tory party paid £58,000 towards the refurbishment of the No 11 flat and then tried to disguise it.
The total cost of the work is believed to be a five-figure sum.
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson’s newly appointed director of communications, Jack Doyle, had ‘made accusations’ about him yesterday regarding ‘leaks concerning the PM’s renovation of his flat.’
In a fierce counter-attack, Mr Cummings stated: ‘The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.
‘I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited.’ Mr Cummings added he was willing to share his information about the matter with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case or the Electoral Commission watchdog which monitors party funding.
This newspaper disclosed on March 20 that the Electoral Commission had asked Conservative chairman Ben Elliot if the party had complied with strict electoral laws on political donations.
According to well-placed sources, the Prime Minister agreed to pay up himself after he was told it is not permissible for a political party to use its funds to refurbish the Prime Minister’s official home; nor is it acceptable for a Tory donor pay for it privately. In a third blow, it is understood the plan to channel the money to the flat via a proposed ‘Downing Street Trust’ has also been ruled out.
Cabinet Office Minister Lord True confirmed yesterday that plans for such a trust to preserve Downing Street as a whole are still under consideration.
However, insiders revealed one of the main reasons Mr Johnson has pursued the idea of a trust so vigorously since the cost of the flat soared – to recoup the £58,000 – has also been thrown out.
Officials are believed to have advised that the trust can be used for the Downing Street rooms, where receptions for visiting dignitaries and charitable functions are hosted, but they cannot be used for new wallpaper for the flat – either now or in the future.
Together with Mr Johnson’s agreement to pay towards the flat from his own income, it would suggest Mr Cummings’s instincts were right all along.
A No 10 spokesman said last night: ‘At all times, the Government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law. Cabinet Office officials have been engaged and informed throughout and official advice has been followed.
‘All reportable donations are transparently declared and published – either by the Electoral Commission or the House of Commons registrar, in line with the requirements set out in electoral law.
‘Gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity are, and will continue to be, declared in transparency returns.’
ANDREW PIERCE: Is this battle between Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings mutually assured destruction?
When the defenestrated Dominic Cummings left No 10 in November, he was ready for his close-up.
Scruffy as ever, a lanyard dangling around his neck, eyes downcast and clutching a large cardboard box, he exited through the famous front door bathed in the glare of photographers’ flashes.
The carefully contrived scene, in time for the evening news bulletins, prompted a raft of jokes in Downing Street about what was in the box. Suggestions ranged from stale sandwiches or his collection of nerdy tomes on technology to dirty laundry.
But one senior figure watching the unfolding drama on TV in Boris Johnson’s study was not so sure. ‘I hope that box isn’t filled with stuff that could come back to haunt us,’ he observed.
He was only half joking. The Prime Minister, by all accounts, laughed off the suggestion that Cummings, once his trusted and all-powerful chief adviser, might take a noisy revenge for his sacking. Well, perhaps he’s not laughing quite so hard now.
The Prime Minister, by all accounts, laughed off the suggestion that Dominic Cummings, once his trusted and all-powerful chief adviser, might take a noisy revenge for his sacking. Well, perhaps he’s not laughing quite so hard now. (Above, the pair on Election night in 2019)
The psychodrama that has erupted around Cummings about who leaked what texts and when is potentially hugely damaging for the Prime Minister.
Last year Mr Johnson risked his reputation and that of his Government by backing Cummings despite public outrage at a breach of lockdown rules on the aide’s infamous 260-mile dash from London to the North East.
Seven months later, however, the Prime Minister sacked him, worried that his Government was no longer working with the thuggish Cummings at its head, and persuaded by a coterie of senior female advisers – including his partner Carrie – that change was needed.
Now, with Cummings identified on the front pages of three national newspapers – each spoon-fed the story by No 10 – as the source of damaging leaks in recent months, Mr Johnson has whacked him. Or, as a senior Tory said last night, he has ‘declared all-out war’ on Cummings.
Other more cynical observers point to the No 10 claims being a classic ‘dead cat’ strategy in which spin doctors introduce a dramatic new fact to divert attention away from an embarrassing issue or two.
This week the headlines have been dominated by escalating claims of Tory sleaze after the release of text messages between Mr Johnson and the businessman Sir James Dyson.
Then, on Thursday night, the Treasury released dozens of pages of correspondence from 2020 between David Cameron and the disgraced financier Lex Greensill and the Treasury, further fuelling that scandal.
But, after No 10’s intervention to link Cummings to so-called ‘revenge leaks’, attention has been diverted to the bogey man figure of the former aide. ‘There is a sense of exasperation in No 10,’ says a source. ‘The Government has been doing well in the polls and that has happened post-Cummings. I don’t think Cummings could bear it, so he launched his wrecking ball.’
Either way, it is a high-risk PR strategy, with some Westminster watchers describing it as akin to kicking a hornets’ nest, with everyone about to get stung.
Last night Cummings issued a bombshell statement rebutting a ‘number of false accusations’ made by No 10 to the media. He castigated Mr Johnson and his office for incompetence and a lack of integrity, while claiming that an alleged plan to have donors secretly pay for the renovation of the Downing Street flat was ‘possibly illegal’.
There is no doubt that when Cummings was in No 10 he would have been copied into many texts and messages sent by Mr Johnson and senior ministers. Did he keep them as an insurance strategy or indeed for revenge? He says not. However, many senior Tory MPs are blaming the Prime Minister for what one said was a ‘catastrophic failure of duty of care’.
‘Cummings was at the heart of every major Government decision since Boris became PM,’ the MP said. ‘He saw confidential papers, was the keeper of secrets, and saw Boris’s close-up relations with Carrie. It’s astonishing Boris never tried harder to keep Cummings on side. He’s now paying the price.’
Just how important Cummings was in the court of Mr Johnson cannot be underestimated. When Boris opted to back Leave in the 2016 referendum, he was introduced by Michael Gove to Cummings, then campaign manager for Vote Leave.
It was an inspired pairing – the flamboyant MP who as London mayor had been the most popular politician in Britain and the data-driven strategist with a flair for eye-catching slogans. It was Cummings who coined ‘Take back control’.
When Mr Johnson became foreign secretary in Theresa May’s government, she stopped him from hiring Cummings. But as soon as Boris became party leader, Cummings was appointed his top adviser, sparking unease among senior Tories. He was seen as a loose cannon, famously described as a ‘career psychopath’ by Mr Cameron.
Yet Cummings soon proved his worth, coming up with a new slogan (‘Get Brexit Done’), successfully arguing for a December 2019 general election, and correctly identifying that Labour’s ‘red wall’ was vulnerable. He targeted it and demolished it.
There is no doubt that when Cummings was in No 10 he would have been copied into many texts and messages sent by Mr Johnson and senior ministers. Did he keep them as an insurance strategy or indeed for revenge? He says not. However, many senior Tory MPs are blaming the Prime Minister for what one said was a ‘catastrophic failure of duty of care’. (Above, together in September 2019)
This week the headlines have been dominated by escalating claims of Tory sleaze after the release of text messages between Mr Johnson and the businessman Sir James Dyson. Then, on Thursday night, the Treasury released dozens of pages of correspondence from 2020 between David Cameron and the disgraced financier Lex Greensill (above, with Cameron in Saudi Arabia) and the Treasury, further fuelling that scandal
Secure inside No 10, he and other Vote Leave staffers such as his loyal lieutenant Lee Cain, then head of communications, were on a mission. They took the view that they were Whitehall outsiders battling an entrenched elite.
Cummings would brook no disloyalty to Boris and, somewhat ironically now, dealt with suspected ‘leakers’ ruthlessly.
Then, at the height of the pandemic last spring, he broke lockdown rules with that trip to Durham. Mr Johnson stood by his unrepentant aide through the furore that followed, but by doing so, he was burning through his political capital – something he belatedly recognised.
When Cummings did finally leave, he rejected all interview requests and apart from giving evidence to a committee of MPs last month, has stayed largely silent. But there is no doubt he is an angry man.
Was he biding his time? Is Downing Street wise to have tried to flush him out? Or is this move, as some Westminster insiders suggest, an act of ‘mutually assured destruction’.
Mail exposés that rocked No 10: From the second lockdown to the Downing Street flat makeover and Carrie’s influence… how our revelations have sent PM and his advisers into a tailspin
By Jason Groves for the Daily Mail
In the past six months, Downing Street has been rocked by a string of revelations in the Daily Mail, which have sent Boris Johnson and his advisers into a tailspin.
The Prime Minister, who once vowed to end the leaking culture that helped destroy Theresa May’s administration, has proved unable to stop the release of a slew of damaging revelations.
While some have focused on government policy and his personal dealings with business tycoons and world leaders, others have lasered in on his own personal conduct.
As Political Editor JASON GROVES reports, claims about the redecoration of his Downing Street flat and the conduct of his girlfriend Carrie Symonds have enraged both the Prime Minister – and his powerful fiancee.
The Prime Minister (pictured with Carrie Symonds), who once vowed to end the leaking culture that helped destroy Theresa May’s administration, has proved unable to stop the release of a slew of damaging revelations
Boris Johnson is said to have been ‘apoplectic’ after plans for a second national lockdown were leaked to the Mail at the end of October, before they had even been finalised. The leak came hours after government scientists had convinced the Prime Minister that another lockdown was needed.
The revelation threw No 10 into disarray and forced the PM to fast track the lockdown announcement. Allies of the Prime Minister said he believed the leak had been an attempt to ‘bounce’ him into a lockdown he was still deliberating over.
A major leak inquiry was launched to find the so-called ‘chatty rat’, with ministers including Michael Gove and Matt Hancock ordered to hand over their phones. But yesterday No 10 said it had yet to conclude.
The Mail has delivered a string of extraordinary revelations about the redecoration of the Downing Street flat ordered by the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.
The first, in March, revealed that officials were looking to establish a charitable trust to help pay for the lavish makeover by upmarket interior designer Lulu Lytle, which is said to have cost up to £200,000.
Leaked emails have since revealed that almost £60,000 of Tory Party funds have been used to help pay for the renovations, sparking calls for an investigation by the Electoral Commission into possible misuse of party funds.
A series of stories in the Mail has revealed the influence wielded behind the scenes by Miss Symonds – a former director of communications for the Tory party.
In November last year, the Mail revealed that the Prime Minister had chosen former TV journalist Allegra Stratton, who is Miss Symonds’ friend, to be his new press secretary because otherwise ‘Carrie will go effing crackers’.
And in February, this paper revealed Miss Symonds tried to damage the career of civil service ethics chief Helen MacNamara, who had refused to sign off the flat refurbishment and has since quit. The following months, the Mail revealed claims that Miss Symonds had tried to block the careers of a string of young female Tories allegedly deemed too attractive.
THE SAUDI SHEIKH
Last week, the Mail revealed that Mr Johnson was directly lobbied by controversial Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to intervene with the Premier League after it blocked a Saudi bid to take over Newcastle United. Bin Salman, who is accused of authorising the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi, messaged the PM to ask him to ‘correct’ the decision or risk damaging diplomatic relations. Mr Johnson asked his senior aide Eddie Lister to investigate but the Saudis withdrew.
DILYN THE DOG
The Mail has published a number of stories about the No 10 dog Dilyn, which reportedly angered the PM and Miss Symonds.
In November, the Mail revealed that Miss Symonds had urged Mr Johnson to break off from a Covid crisis meeting in order to complain about a newspaper report claiming the couple wanted to get rid of the dog.
In February, it was claimed that No 10 aide Katie Lam left her job after clashing with Miss Symonds when Dilyn cocked his leg over her handbag at a gathering in the Downing Street garden.
Last month, the Mail revealed that the PM and Miss Symonds have regular food hampers ‘smuggled in’ to Downing Street from one of Britain’s poshest organic farm shops Daylesford – which is owned by Lady Bamford, wife of the billionaire JCB tycoon and Tory donor Lord Bamford.
The paper reported that around 30 giant boxes of food, along with up to 100 prepared meals have been delivered in recent months at a cost of £12,500.