PM’s comms chief praises "unsung" civil servants as he quits amid No.10 infighting

Shock resignation comes amid reports Dominic Cummings also threatened to resign
Lee Cain, who resigned as the PM's director of communications last night. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images

By PoliticsHome staff

12 Nov 2020

Boris Johnson's influential director of communications, Lee Cain, has quit government following a backlash to plans for him to be promoted to the No.10 chief of staff – amid rumours the prime minister's top aide Dominic Cummings could also resign.

Cain has worked for Johnson for three years, having previously worked for the Vote Leave campaign, and is considered one of his most loyal team members. 

There is also speculation that Cummings may also resign, as Cain is an ally of Cummings who has been described as the top spad's "right hand man".

The resignation comes after reports that Cain was due to take on a more senior role as the PM's chief of staff. This led to rumours yesterday that Johnson's fiancée Carrie Symonds was against his promotion and that a number of special advisers were also unhappy. 

The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg reported how Allegra Stratton, the former ITV journalist drafted in to be the PM’s spokesman at the new televised press briefings, was unhappy about Cain’s potential appointment, as well as the PM’s influential policy adviser Munira Mirza.

Cain is understood to have suggested the introduction of White House-style televised briefings, as part of a drive to overhaul government communications. The reforms will also see the number of press officers departments can have reduced, and will see comms staff moved to a single-employer system managed by the Cabinet Office.

It has been reported that the prime minister's official spokesman James Slack is due to take over as director of communications. This would be move from a civil service to a special adviser role.

Cain confirmed in a statement that he had been asked to take on the chief of staff job, and praised the "unsung" civil servants he had worked with during his time in government.

He said: "After careful consideration I have this evening resigned as No.10 director of communications and will leave the post at the end of the year.
 
"It has been a privilege to work as an adviser for Mr Johnson for the last three years – being part of a team that helped him win the Tory leadership contest, secure the largest Conservative majority for three decades - and it was an honour to be asked to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff.
 
"I would like to thank all the team at No.10 – including the many unsung and incredibly talented civil servants – for their hard work and support during the last 18 months.
 
"And most of all I would like to thank the prime minister for his loyalty and leadership. I have no doubt that under his premiership the country will deliver on the promises made in the 2019 election campaign and build back better from the coronavirus pandemic."

In a statement, Johnson thanked Cain for four years of "extraordinary service to the government".

"He has been a true ally and friend and I am very glad that he will remain director of communications until the new year and to help restructure the operation. He will be much missed," the PM said.

A former special adviser told CSW's sister title PoliticsHome it the turn of events was "utterly mad", given the coronavirus crisis. They added: "The worst time for this to be happening. All of this in the middle of a pandemic is awful."

Kate Proctor is politics editor and Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PoliticsHome, where this story first appeared.

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