Prime minister hires new aides after quadruple resignation

Boris Johnson has appointed a new chief of staff and director of communications
Photo: CeresB/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

By CSW staff

07 Feb 2022

Boris Johnson has hired two new aides following last week's spate of resignations.

Cabinet Office minister Stephen Barclay is the prime minister's new chief of staff, while Guto Harri, of kneeling on GB News fame and an adviser to Johnson when he was mayor of London, is now director of communications, the government announced on Saturday.

On Thursday, the PM's principle private secretary, chief of staff, director of communications and policy chief all quit.

No.10 policy chief Munira Mirza, who resigned over Johnson's comments that Keir Starmer had failed to personally prosecute Jimmy Savile, was replaced on the same day by MP and ex-Sky News boss Andrew Griffith.

Barclay, who will keep his ministerial role and also has responsibilities as an MP, has replaced Dan Rosenfield.

Ex-BBC correspondent Harri, who quit GB News last year after being suspended for taking the knee, has taken over from Jack Doyle.

Principle private secretary Martin Reynolds remains the only departure not to have been replaced and will continue in his role until a successor is found.

Three former holders of the No.10 chief of staff role have questioned Barclay's appointment.

Gavin Barwell, chief of staff under Theresa May, said Barclay is “diligent, smart, insists on high standards and a nice guy to boot” but it “won’t be easy to combine being chief of staff with a minister and MP”.

Nick Timothy,another chief of staff under May, described Barclay as "very talented" but said he is not sure a dual ministerial and chief of staff role can work.

And Jonathan Powell, who held the role under Tony Blair, raised several concerns in a tweet: “Does he resign as an MP? Or is he answerable to parliament? I can think of no democracy where the chief of staff can also be in the legislature.

“I found being No.10 chief of staff a full-time job. Not sure how it could be combined with representing a constituency. And having to go to answer parliamentary questions about the PM would be tricky.”

The FDA warned warned last week that Johnson would face a huge challenge to replace key members of his No.10 team.

Dave Penman,  the general secretary of senior civil servants’ union, said it was hard to overstate the significance of the departures of policy unit chief Munira Mirza, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and comms director Jack Doyle.

“To lose so many critical posts at once really is undermining the effective working of No.10. and you just have to think about what each of these roles does, as well as how close these individuals are to the prime minister: essentially all hand-picked,” Penman told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme on Friday.

“A lot happens in government, a lot happens in No.10 and you need a group of people that you can trust that are very close to you both politically and who understand how you work.”

Penman, speaking before Saturday's double-announcement, questioned whether new appointments would have the necessary skills and the ability to fit in with Johnson’s way of working.

“You only have to look at each of these roles and think of who has conducted them in the past,” he said, citing examples from the New Labour years. “Director of communications: Alastair Campbell, remember how critical he was? Jeremy Heywood was a previous principal private secretary who went on to be cabinet secretary. David Miliband and Andrew Adonis were directors of the No.10 Policy Unit. So you get a sense of the type of people and the influence they have over a prime minister.”

Johnson and his supporters have sought to portray the departures as part of necessary change.

Reynolds, Rosenfield and Doyle have all been linked to different Partygate events, while Mirza said she resigned over the PM’s failure to retract claims he made in parliament that sought to imply Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer was personally responsible for allowing Savile to escape justice.

Penman said the departures of Reynolds, Rosenfield and Doyle raised questions about the management of No.10 - “I’m not sure you would plan to have so many of the key officials leaving at the one time” - but acknowledged that some moves were inevitable as a result of  Partygate.


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