Dominic Cummings: UK PM’s top aide leaves with immediate effect

Hardline Brexiteer’s departure offers chance for Boris Johnson to reset policy as COVID-19 pandemic mounts, Brexit nears.

Dominic Cummings, special adviser to the UK's Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street with his belongings [Henry Nicholls/Reuters]

Dominic Cummings, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most powerful aide and the divisive figure behind the 2016 campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, has left his job with immediate effect after a power struggle within the prime minister’s office, according to British media reports.

Cummings, who had been expected to remain in his post until the end of the year, was seen leaving 10 Downing Street, the prime minister’s office, on Friday carrying a cardboard box of his belongings.

Media including Sky News and the BBC reported he would no longer be reporting for duty.

The Guardian and Financial Times newspapers said Johnson ordered Cummings to leave amid accusations he had been briefing against both him and his fiancee Carrie Symonds, while The Times reported sources saying Cummings had “decided to go early”.

Johnson’s Conservative government has been mired in a power struggle as it struggles to contain Europe’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak, establish a rapport with US President-elect Joe Biden and secure a last-minute Brexit trade agreement.

Prior to his sudden departure, Cummings had reiterated comments made in January that he would make himself “largely redundant” within a year, coinciding with the definitive end of the UK’s EU membership.

Critics said the announcement marked the end of the arch Brexiteer’s policy clout.

“I think that Dom now, so far as Westminster is concerned, is a busted flush,” said one Conservative legislator using Cummings’ nickname, speaking to Reuters News Agency on condition of anonymity.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps told Sky News on Friday the Downing Street aide would “be missed”.

“In any government, you require people who are going to shake things up and come along with ideas, he’s actually been that person.”

Policy reset

Johnson appointed Oxford-educated Cummings his chief adviser when he took power in July 2019.

A balding 48-year-old with an unconventional dress sense and combative manner, Cummings scorned the political establishment and traditional elites despite himself being married to the daughter of a baronet.

His controlling style and frequent clashes with colleagues generated tensions within the prime minister’s inner circle, and the power struggle spilled into the open with the resignation earlier this week of Johnson’s director of communications, Lee Cain, a close Cummings ally who had been tipped as a new chief of staff.

The top aide drew public anger earlier this year after it emerged he had driven 418km (260 miles) north to his parents home in Durham during the coronavirus lockdown in an apparent breach of strict regulations he had helped to design.

Cummings, who had symptoms of COVID-19 at the time and whose wife had contracted the virus, claimed the trip was necessary to ensure he had childcare options for their young son.

Dominic Cummings drew public anger after driving his family hundreds of kilometres north during lockdown and apparently breaching strict rules he had helped draft [File: Jonathan Brady/Pool via AFP]

Despite the backlash, he refused to resign and Johnson stood by him.

The political aide first came to public attention in the 2016 Brexit referendum when he was a key player in the Leave campaign’s surprise victory. Last year, he helped Johnson win the general election with the biggest majority his party had seen since 1987.

Cummings is seen by allies and enemies as a ruthless strategist who cares little for the conventions of traditional British politics. Former Prime Minister David Cameron described him as a “career psychopath”.

His departure is an opportunity for Johnson to reset policy and rebuild his relationship with his own MPs at a time when the government is under increasing pressure for its handling of COVID-19, which has killed more than 50,000 people in the UK.

Bernard Jenkin, a veteran Conservative politician, said Cummings’ exit would be a chance to restore “respect, integrity and trust” between MPs and Downing Street, which have been “lacking in recent months”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies