November 12, 2020 7:32:39 am
A senior aide to Boris Johnson has resigned despite being offered the role of chief of staff to the U.K. prime minister, in a move that threatens to destabilize the British leader’s powerful inner circle.
Lee Cain announced he was standing down as Johnson’s director of communications in a statement on Wednesday evening. “It was an honor to be asked to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff,” Cain said, following reports that he had been lined up for the role by Johnson.
It is not clear why Cain did not take up the role of chief of staff and his exit raises questions over the future of Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s most powerful — and controversial — adviser, who is close to Cain.
According to one version of events, Cain and Cummings lobbied the prime minister to make Cain chief of staff. But Johnson was unhappy that the appointment was made public in Wednesday’s newspapers before he had reached a final decision, people familiar with the matter said. By Wednesday evening, Cain decided he had to go.
Cain’s departure is a potential blow to Johnson at a particularly sensitive time: Britain is in a partial lockdown and the U.K. passed 50,000 deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday, while talks over a major trade deal with the EU are still unresolved.
Both Cummings and Cain worked with Johnson on the Vote Leave referendum campaign of 2016 and Cain went on to serve as Johnson’s senior press aide in his role as foreign secretary.
Johnson thanked Cain, a former tabloid journalist, and described him as “a true ally and friend,” adding: “He will be much missed.”
As the person responsible for the government’s communications strategy, Cain has come under scrutiny during the coronavirus pandemic, with Johnson’s operation at times criticized by members of his own Conservative Party for lacking clear messaging and being pushed from one crisis to another.
Cain’s departure also coincides with the appointment of a new key press secretary, Allegra Stratton, a former ITV journalist who is due to lead televised White House-style briefings for the government.
Cain will stay in his post until 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,” Cain said.
He added: “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.”
The opposition Labour Party said Cain’s resignation shows government officials are divided and failing to focus on the right priorities. “Boris Johnson’s government is fighting like rats in a sack over who gets what job,” Labour said in an e-mailed statement. “It is precisely this lack of focus and rank incompetence that has held Britain back.”
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