He has been called ruthless, wicked, toxic, horrible, a career psychopath and a cross between Darth Vader, Machiavelli, and Rasputin.
However he is portrayed, Dominic Cummings wielded tremendous power in the inner circle of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and wreaked havoc by wrestling with bureaucrats, ministers and MPs.
But now the disheveled special adviser, best known for leading the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum, is stepping down and adding to the growing turmoil within the Prime Minister’s office.
Mr Cummings, 48, has been an integral part of Downing Street since Mr Johnson took office as Prime Minister in July 2019. His departure is a blow to Mr Johnson, 56, who is struggling to contain a power struggle among senior leaders. staff while managing a multitude of national crises.
Mr Johnson’s handling of the pandemic has already raised concerns. The country is seeing a record number of daily infections despite a lockdown in England and strict restrictions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
The Prime Minister also faces the looming deadline of December 31 to conclude a trade deal with the European Union. The UK has withdrawn from the EU, but the country will remain in the EU’s single market until January 1, 2021. Business leaders fear that without a trade pact, the UK will be faced with rigorous European tariffs and strict border controls. With Mr Cummings’ backing, Mr Johnson took a hard line during negotiations and repeatedly threatened to walk away.
Now that Mr Cummings is leaving, EU leaders have expressed hope that Mr Johnson will change his position. The resignation of the senior assistant was “probably a sign that Johnson has started his U-turn and will finally agree to EU terms,” Philippe Lamberts, member of the European Parliament of Belgium, told reporters on Friday. However, Downing Street officials have insisted Mr Johnson will not change his approach to the talks.
Few Conservative MPs bemoaned the resignation of Mr. Cummings. He had become a divisive figure and had a knack for making enemies. He has already called several Tory MPs who belonged to the EU’s pro-Brexit research group as “useful idiots” and said they should be treated “like a metastasizing tumor and excised from the British body politic”.
He sparked an uproar last March when he drove 400 kilometers north of London to his father’s farm just days after the government placed the country in near total lockdown. Mr Cummings defended his actions saying he and his wife developed symptoms of COVID-19 and took their four-year-old son to his grandparents. Mr Johnson stood alongside his aide, but the fallout led to a sharp drop in public support for the government and undermined his message on COVID-19.
Mr Cummings has been hailed by some Tories for his relentless pursuit of Brexit and his unconventional style, which tore through bureaucratic red tape. He has previously pledged to hire “weird and misfit with weird skills” to shake up the civil service and he has written lengthy blog posts on “cognitive technologies” and “interactive quantitative models.” His handling of the Vote Leave campaign also garnered praise, and he was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in an HBO Brexit drama released last year. “It’s an insurgency against the establishment,” Cummings’ character said in the film. “Our expectation is to create the greatest political upheaval since the fall of the Berlin Wall.”
In recent months, his power seemed to have waned. This week, one of his deputies, Lee Cain, abruptly resigned after losing an offer to become Mr Johnson’s chief of staff. Mr Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds, has been opposed to promoting Mr Cain along with other factions in Downing Street, media reports. With the departure of Mr Cain and Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson has lost two of his most powerful advisers.
Several Tory MPs have said they hope the resignations will prompt Mr Johnson to change course and take a more inclusive approach. “This is an opportunity to reset the way government works,” said Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin.
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