The Vote Leave team sought to oust Boris Johnson almost immediately after the premier’s landslide victory in the 2019 general election, former No 10 official Dominic Cummings revealed in an interview with BBC on Tuesday night. How could the ex-top aide’s explosive revelations pan out for BoJo?
Cummings admitted that he had been looking to “hasten” Johnson’s departure from Downing Street, claiming that he had realized at the time that the prime minister’s fiancée wanted them out: “Before even mid-January (2020) we were having meetings in Number 10 saying it’s clear that Carrie wants rid of all of us,” he told BBC. “At that point we were already saying, by the summer, either we’ll all have gone from here or we’ll be in the process of trying to get rid of him and get someone else in as prime minister.”
Downing Street shredded Cummings’ claims regarding the premier’s wife Carrie Symonds’ supposed intentions, while a senior Tory MP remarked that the ex-Johnson aide would have to launch nothing short of a “military coup” to remove a leader “who Conservatives thought could ‘walk on water’ after delivering them a landslide election victory,” according to The Independent.
“I think we need to be careful here – these are the comments of a disgruntled unelected ex-advisor, who to emphasise, had no practical means to remove someone he no longer supported,” says Professor Alex de Ruyter, director of the Centre for Brexit Studies at Birmingham City University. “The PM is the leader of the Party that gets to form Government in the House of Commons. Boris Johnson as leader is elected by the MPs and members of the Conservative Party and so they are the only ones who can replace him by a vote of no-confidence in his leadership.”
Cummings quit Downing Street in November 2020, soon after his close Brexit ally Lee Cain, yet another top aide to the prime minister, resigned amid a growing power struggle within the premier’s cabinet. According to the Evening Standard, Cain and Cummings were “pitted” against Johnson’s other advisers including Carrie Symonds, who opposed Cain’s promotion to chief-of-staff.
Following months of silence, Cummings wrote a bitter post in his blog in April 2021, vowing to tell all about the premier’s conduct and handling of the COVID pandemic. On 26 May, the former aide delivered a testimony at the House of Commons, pulling no punches while criticising Boris Johnson and Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock. Since then, Cummings has made a series of exposés lambasting his former boss and colleagues.
Nevertheless, Johnson has seemed unfazed by the ex-official’s disclosures. Matt Hancock, however, resigned, but not particularly because of Cummings’s revelations: the former health secretary was caught on camera kissing a married colleague and thus violating both ethical standards and COVID guidelines.
There are several factors that lessen the impact of Cummings’s latest remarks, according to Dr. Martin Farr, a senior lecturer of contemporary British history at Newcastle University.
“The first is that his public reputation is even lower than that of the prime minister, due to his own breaching of COVID restriction in April 2020, which remains the most damaging single episode in the pandemic for the government,” the academic presumed. “The second is that Cummings’s evidence is almost ‘priced in’ to the public view of the prime minister: despite all that is already known about his conduct.”
Furthermore, the Conservative Party is still ten per cent ahead of the opposition in public opinion polling, which means Johnson is in no immediate danger as prime minister, according to Farr.
In addition to this, “the undeniably successful vaccine rollout seems to have inoculated the government from blame for earlier failings,” the academic remarks.
Indeed, more than 46 million people in the UK have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine since the British government launched the country’s biggest inoculation programme.
“Johnson is still seen to be a vote-winner and therefore tolerated, if not necessarily liked, by his MPs but clearly still popular with the wider Conservative Party membership,” de Ruyter concludes.