Boris Johnson was warned that a senior civil servant in the heart of his Downing Street operation was suspected of leaking sensitive information – but declined to order an investigation, The Mail on Sunday understands.
The official, who still works in the Prime Minister’s private office, was ‘being watched’ by Dominic Cummings and his No 10 allies after a series of hostile leaks appeared during the dramas of the Covid crisis and the Brexit negotiations. But their concerns are said to have been brushed away by Mr Johnson on the grounds that the official was too good to be moved on.
The revelation is the latest twist in the saga of scandal and leaks which has embroiled Mr Johnson over his £200,000 flat renovation, lobbying rows and his opposition to Covid lockdowns, amid claims Labour is running a ‘Redthroat’ network of spies in Whitehall.
Boris Johnson was warned that a senior civil servant in the heart of his Downing Street operation was suspected of leaking sensitive information – but declined to order an investigation
Boris Johnson, Carrie Symonds and Dominic Cummings, celebrated winning the general election on December 13, 2019
Yet, the relationship between Mr Johnson, right, and his former chief advisor, Mr Cummings, left, has descended into open hostility
Last week, Mr Johnson faced a storm of criticism over furiously denied claims that he was prepared to ‘let the bodies pile high in their thousands’ rather than order more lockdowns. The cabal of Vote Leave loyalists around Mr Cummings were blamed for spreading the alleged remarks, but The Mail on Sunday understands that the reported remarks first started circulating among civil servants in Whitehall.
One source said last night: ‘It wasn’t Dom and his gang who started all this. The door to the PM’s office was open during the discussions, and his words would have been clearly audible outside the meeting.’
Mr Johnson denied making the remarks when pressed by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer during heated Commons exchanges last week, leading Sir Keir to quote the Ministerial Code which holds that ‘Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation’.
Allies of the Prime Minister say they are relaxed about this prospect because while they acknowledge that Mr Johnson made clear his opposition to further lockdowns, if a secret recording emerges of the conversation he will not be forced to resign because he did not speak that line as reported.
Sources say that during the heated meeting in October, held after he had reluctantly agreed to introduce the November lockdown, Mr Johnson had angrily matched the passionate pro-lockdown arguments of Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove.
After Mr Johnson said there should be ‘no more f****** lockdowns’, an aide protested that he was risking the sight of ‘bodies being piled high in their thousands’.
An irritated Mr Johnson replied: ‘So be it.’
Doubts about the Prime Minister’s precise form of words are the reason Sir Keir added, when pressing Mr Johnson in the Commons: ‘…or remarks to that effect.’
The Mail on Sunday reported last week that lurid claims were circulating about Mr Johnson making a comment about ‘bodies’, but we declined to publish the quote in full when its accuracy was fiercely denied by No 10.
The revelation is the latest twist in the saga of scandal and leaks which has embroiled Mr Johnson over his £200,000 flat renovation, lobbying rows and his opposition to Covid lockdowns, amid claims Labour is running a ‘Redthroat’ network of spies in Whitehall
The official, who still works in the Prime Minister’s private office, was ‘being watched’ by Dominic Cummings and his No 10 allies after a series of hostile leaks appeared during the dramas of the Covid crisis and the Brexit negotiations. But their concerns are said to have been brushed away by Mr Johnson on the grounds that the official was too good to be moved on
Downing Street has been shaken by the fact that the report gained traction despite the flat denials and the absence of any on-the-record confirmation.
Aides feel caught in a pincer movement between Mr Cummings’s guerrilla operation and the Government’s enemies within the Civil Service. No 10 believes Mr Cummings has constructed a ‘news grid’, similar to that operated by Downing Street, to deploy his anti-Boris material, mainly centred on the row about the funding of the No 10 flat decorations.
The irony is that Mr Cummings is now working in unintentional concert with the same moles who he accused of trying to sabotage his Brexit strategy when he was working for Mr Johnson.
Senior Tories believe the ‘Redthroat’ network has been feeding inside information to the Labour Party, which then farms it out to friendly media outlets. Downing Street was furious when its plans to override the Brexit agreement during negotiations with the EU last autumn were leaked during a delicate stage in the talks.
A source said: ‘We first suspected there was a mole inside No 10 after Boris came out of hospital, and by accident rather than design only one official knew his arrangements, which then appeared in a paper. But Boris brushed away the concerns, saying the person was too good to lose.’
Downing Street sources deny the Prime Minister is feeling the pressure, insisting that the rows are ‘Westminster bubble’ issues with limited cut-through to the electorate
The MoS knows the identity of the official in question, but No 10 said it was unaware of any concerns.
The plot thickened after the decision to order a second lockdown was leaked by the now-infamous ‘Chatty Rat’ before the PM had signed off the decision, prompting a furious Mr Johnson to order the seizure of mobile phones from Ministers and aides to find the leaker.
Six months later, No 10 is no closer to naming the culprit or culprits, despite the use of cutting-edge technology by the security services to access private phone messages.
Last week, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case admitted it was unlikely the investigation would come to a clear conclusion, even though No 10 has pointed the finger at Mr Cummings. For his part, Mr Cummings has blamed Henry Newman, a No 10 adviser who is close to Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds. Mr Newman denies being involved. The confusion means that multiple leakers with the common aim of damaging the Prime Minister are able to use each other for cover, leading to bluffs and counter-bluffs worthy of a John le Carré novel.
To add to the sense of a siege mentality in Downing Street, Mr Johnson is this weekend getting used to a new mobile phone number for the first time in 15 years after his previous number was found at the bottom of a 2006 press release.
It has frustrated advisers who want the Government to be on the front foot politically on the eve of council elections and the Hartlepool by-election.
As our political columnist Dan Hodges reports today, Ministers claim that despite Mr Johnson dismissing Flatgate as ‘a farrago of nonsense’, the combination of intense political pressures and the demands of family life in the Downing Street flat have forced him to seek sanctuary in bathrooms.
One said: ‘He hasn’t been getting the support he thinks he needs. So he’s taken to trying to find quiet rooms in No 10 to tuck himself away. Once they found him taking refuge in a toilet.’
Another said: ‘He’s looking for more and more excuses to be away from No 10. When you’re PM there are lots of meetings and briefings and sub-committees you have to chair. And who’s doing that? Who’s actually running things?’
Last week, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case admitted it was unlikely the investigation would come to a clear conclusion, even though No 10 has pointed the finger at Mr Cummings
Mr Cummings has blamed Henry Newman, a No 10 adviser who is close to Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds. Mr Newman denies being involved
Downing Street sources deny the Prime Minister is feeling the pressure, insisting that the rows are ‘Westminster bubble’ issues with limited cut-through to the electorate. They point to yesterday’s YouGov survey which predicted that despite weeks of negative publicity about the Government, Labour is on course to lose dozens of council seats on Thursday in the Red Wall constituencies won by the Tories at the General Election.
The poll projects a nine-point swing to the Tories in Red Wall areas, with the Conservatives making up to 122 gains. Sir Keir is also braced to lose the Hartlepool by-election, which would be the first time the constituency has failed to return a Labour MP to Westminster since its creation.
Tory strategists hope that a strong set of local election results will act as a ‘firebreak’ for the Government. The next challenge will come on May 26, when Mr Cummings gives evidence to the joint committee of MPs investigating the Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.
Reports that Mr Cummings is preparing a bombshell dossier of text messages and emails implicating Mr Johnson as personally to blame for the UK’s high Covid death toll have not calmed nerves, but an ever-positive source said: ‘That wouldn’t be great, obviously, but a lot of what Cummings is likely to say has already been put out there. It’s all now priced in to the debate. Hopefully.’
Tory donor: Why should I have to pay for Boris’s baby’s a**** to be wiped?
Concerns about the state of Boris Johnson’s personal finances grew last night amid claims that Tory donors had been asked if they would help the Prime Minister to cover the cost of his childcare.
A senior Conservative source told The Mail on Sunday that one donor had reacted angrily to an approach by responding: ‘Why should I have to pay for his baby’s a*** to be wiped?’
It is among a swirl of fresh allegations about Mr Johnson’s financial arrangements, with suggestions that the Prime Minister had tried to persuade the party’s bankrollers to cover the cost of both a live-in nanny at Downing Street and Mr Johnson’s personal trainer.
Concerns about the state of Boris Johnson’s personal finances grew last night amid claims that Tory donors had been asked if they would help the Prime Minister to cover the cost of his childcare
The flat saga started in 2020, when Mr Johnson grew alarmed by the rising costs of refurbishments to the Downing Street flat at No11, pictured, that he shares with Ms Symonds
As the bill approached a reported £200,000 for items such as £800 rolls of wallpaper, Mr Johnson was told that the taxpayer-funded allowance for redecorations was capped at £30,000 a year
No10 did not deny yesterday that donors had been approached – but insisted that Mr Johnson had ‘personally paid’ for both members of staff.
When asked about claims that a friend of Carrie Symonds had covered the cost of the Prime Minister’s nanny and personal trainer, before being repaid by Mr Johnson, a Downing Street spokesman said: ‘I’m not getting into that.’
The spokesman added: ‘The Prime Minister has covered the cost of all childcare.’
The flat saga started in 2020, when Mr Johnson grew alarmed by the rising costs of refurbishments to the Downing Street flat at No11 that he shares with Ms Symonds. As the bill approached a reported £200,000 for items such as £800 rolls of wallpaper, Mr Johnson was told that the taxpayer-funded allowance for redecorations was capped at £30,000 a year.
No10 denies that the total cost of the work was close to £200,000.
When he asked his aides whether a Tory donor could cover the difference, Mr Johnson is understood to have been warned by Dominic Cummings that it was potentially illegal and he should take out a commercial loan. Tory chairman Ben Elliot is reported to have said it would be ‘madness’.
Members of Mr Johnson’s former inner circle are blaming Lord Lister, the Prime Minister’s outgoing adviser, for allowing the approaches to donors despite the objections. At the time, Mr Johnson was telling friends that he was ‘broke’ because of his expensive divorce from his second wife, Marina, and the pay cut he took to become Prime Minister.
He is reported to have told friends that he needs to earn about £300,000 a year – twice his salary – to stay solvent.
But another source claims that Mr Johnson was ‘exaggerating his poverty to stop Marina coming after him for any more’.
Sources say that Mr Johnson has belatedly taken out the commercial loan recommended by Mr Cummings to cover the costs.
Top aide is on the brink after only four months
Boris Johnson’s chief of staff is on the brink of leaving Downing Street after just four months in the job, sources claim.
Former Treasury civil servant Dan Rosenfeld has had a baptism of fire since he took up his position in January, and has been the subject of hostile briefings from all sides as the factional wars have raged in No 10. Within weeks of him starting, it was claimed that a ‘Sack Dan’ campaign was under way due to his management style.
One official claimed that in meetings he was ‘imbued with the false bonhomie of David Brent in The Office’. Another said: ‘He’s obsessed with process and paperwork rather than politics and people.’
Boris Johnson’s chief of staff Dan Rosenfeld, pictured right, is thought to be considering leaving his job, while Munira Mirza, left, who heads the No 10 Policy Unit, has also been under question
It means that the Prime Minister is once again faced with a search for a ‘strong hand’ to bring discipline to the No 10 machine.
The future of Munira Mirza, who heads the No 10 Policy Unit, has also been under question.
Government sources reported talk a few weeks ago that she was on her way out. Ms Mirza is one of the few long-term aides to Boris Johnson still in government, having previously been a Deputy Mayor for Education and Culture while he served at City Hall.
Mr Johnson last month lost Lord Lister, another ally from his London Mayor days, who quit the Government after repeated questions over his private interests.
A source said No 10 adviser Henry Newman had been touted as a potential addition to the Policy Unit – until Dominic Cummings accused him of being the ‘Chatty Rat’ who leaked lockdown plans. Mr Newman denies the claim. Last night, a source said Ms Mirza was likely to stay in her job, but the widespread view is the Policy Unit needs a shake-up, adding: ‘It is regarded to be not strong enough. They are not producing anything.’