https://www.bbc.com/-Image source, No 10 Downing Street
Boris Johnson told staff on Friday that “change is good”
Boris Johnson still has control of Downing Street after a string of close aides quit their jobs, his official spokesman has insisted.
Mr Johnson quoted The Lion King as he attempted to rally remaining staff, telling them “change is good”.
His spokesman said No 10 was “not currently” expecting more resignations in the coming hours.
But another MP has submitted a letter of no confidence in the PM as the leader battles to save his own job.
Posting on Twitter, Aaron Bell – who criticised Mr Johnson over lockdown parties in the Commons earlier this week – said the “breach of trust” over the rule breaking and how it had been handled made the PM’s position “untenable”.
Backbench unrest is growing within the Conservative Party, with the BBC aware of 17 Tory MPs who have submitted no confidence letters in the prime minister – 54 are needed to trigger a leadership contest.
Many have cited the PM’s participation in parties with staff in No 10 during lockdowns as their motivation to challenge Mr Johnson.
The Metropolitan Police has launched an investigation into 12 of the parties and a full report by Ms Gray is expected to be published afterwards.
And the wave of departures from Mr Johnson’s top team adds to the feeling of instability around him.
Mr Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters that three of Thursday night’s departures – Jack Doyle, Dan Rosenfield and Martin Reynolds – had come as a result of “mutual decisions”.
But the exit of head of policy Munira Mirza and policy advisor Elena Narozanski had not been planned.
Backbencher Tory MP Huw Merriman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the PM should “shape up or ship out”.
But Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said it was “the best thing for the country” to keep Mr Johnson in post.
The minister – who once claimed Mr Johnson was not up to the job of prime minister – denied the government was in disarray, saying: “The PM wanted change and he said there would be change, and we’re seeing that change now.”
The PM held a meeting with staff on Friday, acknowledging it was a “challenging time” in No 10, but he tried to reassure colleagues by quoting Rafiki from Disney’s The Lion King, saying “change is good”.
His spokesman said Mr Johnson also “reflected on the privilege of working in No 10” and “thanked those who are leaving for their contribution alongside the whole team for their work”.
But Labour’s shadow employment minister, Alison McGovern, said the situation in Downing Street looked like “an absolute pantomime”, adding: “Boris Johnson, the one who should be resigning, will be the last one out of the door.”It doesn’t exactly exude confidence the fact that so many people are walking out.”
“Change is good,” declared Boris Johnson to Downing Street staff earlier.
And the string of departures will be said, by supporters, to show he is shaking things up.
That was the promise the PM made, after all, to a packed room of Tory MPs on Monday.
But there are considerable doubts that this is part of some kind of masterplan to overhaul Number 10.
For one thing, Munira Mirza’s resignation was because of her personal unhappiness at the prime minister’s behaviour rather than part of any obvious revamp.
Given she was also such a longstanding ally, it’s been seen as a body blow to the PM.
Then there’s her replacement as head of policy, Andrew Griffith – a choice which has been described to me as a “desperate” by one Tory MP and “bizarre” by another.
This is partly because Mr Griffith’s prior job was that of a parliamentary aide to… Boris Johnson.
Therefore, the rationale goes, he is not best-placed to help the PM hit refresh and see things with new eyes.
One Conservative MP wearily remarked that it seemed so far to be a case of “Boris’ old mates being replaced by some of Boris’ slightly newer mates”.
Three of the departed aides were caught up in the lockdown parties row, including senior civil servant Mr Reynolds, who sent out an invitation to a “bring your own booze” party.
But policy chief Munira Mirza quit over the PM’s false claim that Labour leader Sir Keir failed to prosecute Savile when he was director of public prosecutions, and his refusal to apologise.
In a scathing resignation letter, Ms Mirza – who worked alongside Mr Johnson for 14 years – described the comments as “scurrilous”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak publicly distanced himself from the PM’s original comment, saying: “Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it.”
And asked if Mr Johnson should apologise, he said: “That’s for the prime minister to decide.”
The director of communications, Mr Doyle, confirmed his exit shortly after the departure of Ms Mirza.
He told staff that “recent weeks have taken a terrible toll on my family life”, but that he had always intended to leave after two years.
Mr Doyle remains working at No 10 for now, but the PM’s spokesman said it would only continue “for a short time”.
A statement on Thursday from No 10 said chief of staff Mr Rosenfield had offered his resignation to the prime minister earlier on Thursday, but would stay on while his successor was found.
And Mr Reynolds – the prime minister’s principal private secretary – will do the same, but then return to a role at the Foreign Office.
Ms Narozanski – who quit on Friday morning – is understood to have been loyal to Ms Mirza.
Who are the aides who resigned?
The head of policy at No 10, Munira Mirza worked for Boris Johnson for 14 years, including when he was mayor of London, and was seen as one of his most trusted advisers.
Jack Doyle worked as a Daily Mail journalist before joining Downing Street. He is reported to have attended one of the Christmas gatherings in December 2020, where he thanked staff for their work.
Martin Reynolds is a civil servant and worked as Mr Johnson’s Principal Private Secretary. In that role, he headed up the PM’s private office. He is responsible for sending an email invitation to staff inviting them to socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden in May 2020.
Dan Rosenfield joined Number 10 as chief of staff in January 2021, and had worked in the Treasury for former chancellors Alistair Darling and George Osborne.
Elena Narozanski Education policy specialist. Former adviser to Michael Gove and Theresa May, who headed the New Schools for London programme, when Mr Johnson was mayor. Amateur boxer in her spare time.