‘Carrie Symonds acting like Boris Johnson’s chief of staff’: Prime Minister faces calls for inquiry


Boris Johnson’s fiancee has effectively become his Downing Street chief of staff, a former colleague of hers claimed last night.

Carrie Symonds’s ‘unelected and unaccountable’ role in Government is ‘damaging to democracy,’ according to Nic Conner, who worked with Miss Symonds on the Brexit campaign.

He insisted last night that 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.

Carrie Symonds’s ‘unelected and unaccountable’ role in Government is ‘damaging to democracy,’ according to Nic Conner, who worked with Miss Symonds on the Brexit campaign

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 Miss 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 Miss 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 Miss 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 Miss Symonds was calling the PM 20 times a day, and had been nicknamed ‘Princess Nut Nut’ by her detractors.

The most prominent casualty of Miss Symond¿s alleged influence was Mr Johnson¿s right-hand man Dominic Cummings, who left in November after clashing with her

The most prominent casualty of Miss 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 Miss Symonds was calling the PM 20 times a day

Mr Cummings’s ally, communications chief Lee Cain, soon followed him out of the door amid claims that Miss Symonds was calling the PM 20 times a day

In their place, a new group has grown in Downing Street consisting of allies of Miss 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, is thought to have tried to quit in protest at their arrival but was persuaded to stay and has been rewarded with a place in Cabinet. Fresh battles became public on Friday when Oliver Lewis, another Cummings supporter, resigned as head of the Union Unit.

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 Miss 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 Miss 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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