Boris Johnson is starting a new week hoping that a fresh shake-up of his top Downing Street team will ease the concerns of Tory MPs – some of whom have publicly called for the prime minister to resign over his handling of the partygate scandal.
The prime minister made key changes to his staffing over the weekend – appointing Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay as his new chief of staff and former BBC journalist and long-time ally Guto Harri as his director of communications.
Meanwhile, The Times has reported that Number 10 is planning to announce the return of Dame Emily Lawson, who currently runs NHS England’s vaccination programme, as the new permanent secretary this week.
It is an honour to have been asked by the PM to serve as Chief of Staff for No10 Downing Street alongside my responsibilities in the Cabinet Office.
I am looking forward to working with the PM, Ministers and Parliamentary colleagues on the issues that matter most to our country
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) February 5, 2022
This brings the total number of MPs who have now called for the PM to go to 14 – although not all have formally communicated this to the chairman of the 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady.
A confidence vote will be triggered if Sir Graham receives letters from 54 MPs, 15% of the parliamentary party, calling for a poll.
On Sunday, Gavin Barwell, who served as chief of staff to Theresa May and now sits in the House of Lords, said there was not “a chance in hell” that Mr Johnson would voluntarily resign.
The Tory peer told Sky’s Trevor Phillips On Sunday: “My inclination is that the Conservative Party would be better making a change and I also think, for the good of the country in terms of trust and faith in our politics, there’s a strong case for change.
“But it’s not up to me to make a decision. Ultimately, this is a decision that, up until the next election at least, is one for Conservative MPs.”
Who has left Number 10?
Mr Johnson’s team changes also come after a swathe of resignations among his closest aides.
The beleaguered leader was left wounded by the partygate row – with a Metropolitan Police investigation still looming in the wake of the release of a partial version of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the matter.
The report said Downing Street lockdown gatherings represented a “serious failure” and were “difficult to justify”.
The prime minister was also embroiled in a storm following his refusal to apologise for a slur made against Sir Keir Starmer over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
Number 10 revealed last Thursday that Dan Rosenfield, the PM’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, would be leaving their roles.
Two other key advisers to Mr Johnson – press chief Jack Doyle and policy chief Munira Mirza – have also resigned.
A fifth aide, Elena Narozanski, was the latest aide to leave Number 10 on Friday.
The exodus came as Chancellor Rishi Sunak – widely touted as a possible successor to the PM – piled pressure on Mr Johnson following the row over his comments last week about Jimmy Savile and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
PM promises change in Number 10
The partygate allegations follow longer-term concerns from MPs over the rising cost of living, a looming hike in National Insurance, a series of sleaze allegations and the general running of the Number 10 operation.
But Mr Johnson promised change, and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said on Sunday: “I think the prime minister has been very clear that he wants a reset in Number 10.
“He was very clear speaking to Conservative MPs on Monday and what we saw last week was him following through with that commitment.”
It comes as The Times reported that new additions Mr Barclay and Mr Harri joined the PM at Chequers over the weekend to start work on building a more “grown-up” government.
Mr Kwarteng urged people to give the prime minister the “time and space” to lead.
But former Cabinet minister Robert Jenrick warned that “it is undoubtedly true that public concern is very deep, the damage to the party’s reputation is serious, and will take a considerable effort to change that”.
He added that he had “a great deal of sympathy for many of those colleagues who have come out and said that they feel that change is necessary”.