Barclay 'giving up large portion of Cabinet Office brief' to be No.10 chief of staff

Stephen Barclay will remain Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster responsibilities after taking on new "all-consuming job"
Chancellor for the Duchy of Lancaster and No.10 chief of staff Stephen Barclay. Photo: Imageplotter/Alamy Live News

By Adam Payne

09 Feb 2022

Stephen Barclay is set to give up "a lot" of his responsibilities as the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster to focus on being Boris Johnson's new chief of staff.

Barclay will delegate large chunks of his sizeable workload to Michael Ellis, who the prime minister made minister for the Cabinet Office yesterday afternoon as part of a small-scale ministerial reshuffle, a government source confirmed to CSW sister title PoliticsHome

Heather Wheeler, the Tory MP for South Derbyshire, was also added to the Cabinet Office as a junior minister, as Barclay prepares to split his time between the Cabinet Office and Downing Street.

There was some disbelief in Westminster when it announced last week that Barclay, the Conservative MP for North East Cambridgeshire, had been made the PM's new chief of staff as part of a major Downing Street shake up, while also continuing to serve as CDL and Cabinet Office minister.

Barclay already had a packed in-tray before being added to the senior team at No.10. As CDL he chairs a number of cabinet committees and has been tasked by Johnson with solving a number of high-priority challenges facing the government, like supply chain disruption and Channel crossings. 

A senior Conservative MP who used to work closely with Barclay said that while he is widely respected within the Tory party, and regarded as a highly competent minister, it would be "impossible" for him to juggle his different jobs and perform them all effectively. 

"Fundamentally, I don't see how you can be chief of staff, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and a constituency MP. It's just not possible," they told PoliticsHome.

"Chief of staff in itself is an all-consuming job. If one night it all starts kicking off with the prime minister, but you're meant to be heading back to the constituency, what do you tell your constituents?"

Jonathan Powell, who was chief of staff to former prime minister Tony Blair, last week tweeted that he found the job to be "full time" and he was "not sure how it could be combined with representing a constituency".

Similarly Nick Timothy, who served in the same role during Theresa May's premiership, tweeted: "Barclay is very talented, but not sure having a chief of staff who's also a minister elsewhere can work".

Alex Thomas of the Institute For Government think tank said he felt that the decision to give Barclay the unique status of being both the PM's chief of staff and a government minister, and how it would work in practice, had not been fully thought through.

“From the Sue Gray recommendations to Munira Mirza's resignation to these announcements, [Johnson] is clearly responding to the moment," he said.

“That doesn't mean it's going to be a disaster, quite often in British government reforms come in moments of crisis. But It does mean that particularly some of these structural questions become harder to resolve as we go on".

Gavin Barwell, who also served as chief of staff to Theresa May, agreed with Thomas that the Barclay decision was rushed and done in response to Mirza resigning as Downing Street's head of policy over Johnson's refusal to apologise for his false Jimmy Savile remark about Keir Starmer. 

Mirza was a close ally of the prime minister and her unexpected departure came as a big blow to Johnson and his under-pressure leadership.

Adam Payne is senior correspondent for CSW's sister title PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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