Downing Street today denied that Carrie Symonds is ‘interfering’ in Boris Johnson’s government insisting that she is focused on raising their young son and has already started her new job.
The PM’s spokeswoman said the idea that Ms Symonds is meddling was ‘incorrect’ despite mounting criticism over her power within No10.
She initially said that Mr Johnson’s fiancee was still on maternity leave and ‘raising their son Wilf’, before clarifying that she had started a new job with an animal charity at the end of last month.
Ms Symonds is a former director of communications for the Conservative Party but has been appointed head of communications for the Aspinall Foundation, initially working from her spacious flat in Downing Street.
However, Tories told MailOnline that the ‘playground’ antics within government were no surprise to anyone who had worked with Ms Symonds.
One senior insider pointed out that she had unprecedented influence for the partner of a PM, and it was ‘undeniable’ she advised Mr Johnson.
The latest evidence of tensions came after a think-tank called for an inquiry into the extent of Ms Symonds’ role behind the scenes – and a former colleague warned that she has effectively become
The PM’s spokeswoman said the idea that Carrie Symonds is meddling was ‘incorrect’ despite mounting criticism over her power within No10
Boris Johnson – wearing a jumper, Adidas shorts and his favourite red beanie hat embossed with a Welsh flag – was seen puffing his way around St James’s Park today followed by two protection officers
No10 pet Dilyn is out of the doghouse
Dilyn appears to now be out of the dog house as Boris Johnson was seen taking him for a run today just days after calling for someone to ‘please shoot that f****** dog’ after he gnawed his way through antiques at Chequers.
The PM – wearing a jumper, Adidas shorts and his favourite red beanie hat embossed with a Welsh flag – was seen puffing his way around St James’s Park followed by two protection officers.
Dilyn, a Jack Russell-cross beloved of Mr Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, 32, recently landed him with a four-figure repair bill after chewing on antique furniture and books at the country residence in Buckinghamshire.
Mr Johnson, 56, has told friends he had to foot the bill for ‘making things good’.
Wilfred was born on April 29 last year, so depending on the length of her maternity leave she could return to work within weeks.
The PM’s spokeswoman dodged questions today about whether Mr Johnson feared his fiancee was the victim of sexism.
One former Tory aide said the wrangling in Downing Street was not surprising.
‘All this is so predictable. Anyone who ever worked with her knew this was exactly the way it was going to go,’ they said.
‘Boris is such a comedian, blows with the wind and the last thing she’s whispered in his ear.’
Another senior Conservative said Ms Symonds’ influence was unprecedented.
‘If you go through May, Cameron, Brown, Blair, Major, Thatcher their others all did other things or did nothing. There isn’t another one like her. She comes integrally from within the political cause.
‘That is a difficult role to perform astutely.’
They added: ‘The Symonds-Johnson saga is proof that when you have got two political beings as a couple, it is undeniable that things will be discussed.’
However, the Tory insider stressed that the tensions within No10 appeared to have diminished significantly since the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain.
‘There clearly are elements of friction but it is far less bad than when you had Cummings there.’
Nic Conner, who worked with Ms Symonds on the
He insisted he has no grudge against the former director of Tory communications and was not being sexist, but is concerned she is acting unconstitutionally as friends are hired and rivals fired inside No 10.
Mr Conner said: ‘In light of my experience working with Carrie Symonds, I am deeply concerned that she should have any role in governing the country without authority or accountability.
‘It is clear that Carrie is acting as more than just the Prime Minister’s private confidante. If reports are true, which I believe they are, then her role in government is similar to that of the chief of staff.
‘This is of serious concern as Carrie has not been security-vetted and is not accountable to anyone. She does not answer to anyone with legal authority and cannot be fired or voted out.
‘Anyone holding so much unelected power, and who cannot be removed, is not only unconstitutional but is damaging to British democracy.’
Mr Conner’s comments came after the conservative think tank, the Bow Group – of which he is a research fellow – called for an independent inquiry into the role of Ms Symonds, 32, within government.
Bow Group chairman Ben Harris-Quinney added: ‘No romantic partner of the PM has ever involved themselves to this degree. It’s completely unjustifiable in a modern democracy, and calling me or the Bow Group sexist doesn’t change that.’
The Bow Group wants an inquiry into Ms Symonds’s alleged role in pushing out key Downing Street advisers. It also claims she was instrumental in appointing her close friend Nimco Ali as a Home Office adviser, and recruiting other allies to Downing Street.
Mr Harris-Quinney said: ‘Failure to clarify Ms Symonds’ position and authority, and to ensure that Ms Symonds is not and cannot take any action in governing the United Kingdom, potentially has huge hazards for the Government, the Conservative Party, and the nation. The public take a very dim view of cronyism, democracy in Britain is and must always be sacred, and no one should be involved in running our country without accountability to the people.’
The most prominent casualty of Ms Symond’s alleged influence was Mr Johnson’s right-hand man Dominic Cummings, who left in November after clashing with her.
Mr Cummings’s ally, communications chief Lee Cain, soon followed him out of the door amid claims that Ms Symonds was calling the PM 20 times a day, and had been nicknamed ‘Princess Nut Nut’ by her detractors.
The most prominent casualty of Ms Symond’s alleged influence was Mr Johnson’s right-hand man Dominic Cummings, who left in November after clashing with her
Mr Cummings’s ally, communications chief Lee Cain, soon followed him out of the door amid claims Ms Symonds was calling the PM 20 times a day
In their place, a new group has grown in Downing Street consisting of allies of Ms Symonds and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.
These include her friends Henry Newman and Baroness Finn. Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, who was close to Mr Cummings, has denied threatening to quit in protest at their arrival.
Fresh battles became public on Friday when Oliver Lewis, another Cummings supporter, resigned as head of the Union Unit.
No10 insisted today that despite the departure the PM’s strategy for fighting Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish independence drive was ‘far from’ in chaos.
It was claimed that he had been briefing against Mr Gove and had been forced out as a result. But in a weekend of briefing and counter-briefing, it was also claimed Mr Gove had masterminded Mr Lewis’s departure over fears he was being sidelined by the PM.
Meanwhile Ms Symonds has been appointed head of communications at conservation charity the Aspinall Foundation, which is run by gambling tycoon Damian Aspinall.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the organisation is being investigated by the Charity Commission amid concerns about what it calls ‘financial management and wider governance’.
A spokesman for Ms Symonds – who has a nine-month-old son with the 56-year-old PM – declined to comment on the allegations against her last night.
ANDREW PIERCE: These feuding tribes have turned No.10 into a playground
By Andrew Pierce
Number Ten has long been a hotbed of gossip, intrigue and backstabbing as the power-hungry jostle for position at the court of the prime minister. But even by that yardstick, the events of recent days have been something to behold.
And the figure accused of being at the heart of the latest series of power struggles is not an MP, special adviser or civil servant. It is Carrie Symonds, fiancee of our Prime Minister and mother of his youngest son Wilfred.
Matters have become so fraught that, in the words of one former colleague – who now works for the influential Tory think tank the Bow Group – her ‘unelected and unaccountable’ role in government is ‘damaging to democracy’.
To understand why the Conservative Party’s 32-year-old former director of communications is attracting such attention, it’s important to appreciate the scale of the bloodletting that has occurred behind Downing Street’s black door in recent weeks – and the feuding tribes who are driving it.
Special advisers, or Spads, the unelected train-bearers in the court of the prime minister, often wield more power and influence than seasoned Cabinet ministers.
But their machinations are normally conducted in the shadows. No longer.
To the horror of many Tory MPs, they have turned the Downing Street political operation into what appears to all intents and purposes a playground riven with bitter factional infighting.
In the past few weeks, the Government operation has been beset by leaks, rifts and resignations, leading to a spate of damaging headlines.
The unedifying turf war comes as the Covid death toll goes above 120,000, unemployment is rising fast, and the economy is a shattered ruin. ‘What must the public think of us with all these self-indulgent personality clashes?’ asks one exasperated Whitehall source.
The saga has its roots in the departure of Boris’s mercurial chief adviser Dominic Cummings, who was forced out following the axing of Number Ten’s truculent communications director Lee Cain.
Both were members of the Vote Leave camp which ran the 2016 referendum campaign – and they blame Symonds for their demise.
Their camp suffered another blow last week with the resignation of Oliver Lewis, the former deputy of Lord Frost, who was the Government’s chief negotiator with the EU over Brexit. Lewis, nicknamed Sonic because of his likeness to the video game character Sonic the Hedgehog, was head of the Cabinet Office unit fighting to stave off Scottish independence.
Even some Tory MPs wouldn’t know Lewis if they fell over him. But despite his low profile, his resignation matters. Nationalism in Scotland is on the march and Lewis’s departure after only two weeks in the job is a gift for Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister.
Lewis clashed with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, who chairs the committee in charge of the Union.
Gove, who was born in Aberdeen and whose parents still live there, wanted to love bomb the Scots in a bid to persuade them to stay true to the 313-year-old Union. However, Lewis wanted to take a more aggressive approach.
So did Lewis walk out because of policy differences with Gove? Not a bit of it. After a testy meeting with Boris, and having threatened to resign on more than one occasion in the past, he quit accusing Carrie Symonds of briefing against him because she had taken sides with Gove on the Scottish question.
Lewis denies a report put about by his enemies that he had flounced out because he hadn’t been given a knighthood for his role in the Brexit talks.
It’s easy to see how his nose might have been put out of joint, however.
Lewis was close to Lord Frost, who was promoted to the Cabinet last week with responsibility for the EU and unfinished Brexit negotiations. While his boss got a peerage followed by a Cabinet job, there were no baubles for him.
But even Frost’s appointment was mired in controversy. His supporters argued that Gove had been too soft with Brussels since Brexit took effect on January 1. Frost, they said, would be more hardline.
The Gove camp suspect that the hostile briefings were the work of Lewis, an allegation that he denies.
Gove’s supporters insist he first suggested Frost’s elevation to the Cabinet. While the war of words raged over Frost and Gove, who is tipped for a big Cabinet promotion, the problems over goods going from mainland Britain into Northern Ireland since Brexit accelerated.
Carrie, who – as we have seen – has emerged as one of the most influential prime ministerial spouses of modern times, has her own group of loyalists.
They include Baroness Finn who last week became deputy chief of staff at No 10, and Henry Newman, who moved from advising Gove to working with Boris.
Carrie will be delighted with their arrival, but did she orchestrate it? Finn has known Boris since she raised funds for his 2008 mayoral campaign when Carrie was still at university.
Oxford and Harvard-educated Newman, meanwhile, worked closely alongside Boris and Gove on Brexit. ‘They got there on merit,’ said one source.
Carrie’s friends don’t deny she is influential, but argue that the criticism of her role is rooted in sexism.
One fan says: ‘She’s an important adviser to Boris in the same way Theresa May’s husband Philip was when she was prime minister. We should not be ashamed that Boris listens to his fiancee.’
However, Philip May was only occasionally seen and absolutely never heard, while Carrie has become linked with hirings and firings.
Last year, her close friend Nimco Ali was appointed a Home Office adviser on tackling violence against women. The post was not advertised in the usual way. Carrie’s influence was detected.
At this time of national crisis it is surely more vital than ever that the Government operates with determination and unity. Yet a Downing Street operation that should run like a Rolls-Royce has instead become a cauldron of poisonous rivalries. What must the voters think?
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