Dominic Cummings tonight ostentatiously marched out of Downing Street with things in a cardboard box as sources claimed he had left “for good”.
The Prime Minister’s top advisor chose to walk out in front of the world’s media instead of using one of the many side entrances to No10 in what appeared to be a bizarre final stunt.
In comes after Mr Cummings’ top ally, Director of Communications Lee Cain, 38, announced he would quit in a factional warfare that has gripped No10 just as the UK hit 50,000 coronavirus deaths.
Sources told multiple media outlets Mr Cummings had decided to leave with immediate effect, and would not be returning to Downing Street.
He and Mr Cain spoke with the PM at lunchtime and it was decided they should go immediately rather than have drawn-out departures, it was claimed.
Yet a No10 source then contacted journalists en masse to say both Mr Cummings and Mr Cain would continue to work for the PM and No10 until mid-December.
It was not clear whether they’d do that from No10 itself, and if they were just working out their notice.
Despite a barrage of questions from journalists, No10 has not actually formally confirmed Mr Cummings has or will quit. Instead he gave a convoluted signal to the BBC last night that he would be out by the end of the year.
No10 staffers were left baffled as an internal warfare gripped No10. One insider said: “This could all be an elaborate plot to make journalists look foolish.”
But a source told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg Mr Cummings was now gone “for good”. And Sky News reported the PM had told him to go this lunchtime.
Another source told the Financial Times: “That’s the last time he walks down the road like Kim Kardashian, preening for the cameras like the spoilt lord of Barnard Castle.”
The pound rose against the dollar and the euro after it emerged Mr Cummings would leave.
It comes after relations in No10 broke down in an astonishing internal warfare that will dramatically reshape the top of government.
Mr Cummings and Mr Cain worked together on the Vote Leave campaign with Boris Johnson and were notorious for their bruising management styles.
But their stronghold fell apart when a source briefed The Times that Mr Cain would be given a new job of Chief of Staff – giving him vast powers to issue orders in the name of the Prime Minister.
The plot collapsed after the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds objected to Mr Cain – who a decade ago dressed in the Mirror Chicken suit to chase Tory politicians – getting the job.
She is said to be more allied to Allegra Stratton, the former Newsnight journalist who the PM hired as his new TV spokeswoman, sidelining Mr Cain.
Now the Telegraph has tipped ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid for the Chief of Staff job in what would be another blow to Cummings’ faction in No10.
Mr Javid resigned in protest at an attempted No10 power grab over his advisors.
And one of Mr Khan’s former advisors, Sonia Khan, today reached a five-figure settlement after she was sacked by Cummings and ordered out of No10.
“Steady” Eddie Lister, an ally of Boris Johnson from his City Hall days, has been given the new Chief of Staff role in the interim.
A No10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has today asked Sir Edward Lister to take on the role of chief of staff for an interim period pending a permanent appointment to the post.”
He told LBC radio: “I think millions of people will be waking up this morning, scratching their heads, saying, ‘What on earth is going on?’
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re all worried about our health and our families, we’re all worried about our jobs, and this lot are squabbling behind the door of No10. It’s pathetic. Pull yourselves together, focus on the job in hand.”
Conservative grandees urged the party leader to kickstart a transformation of the Downing Street operation.
Senior MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the backbench Commons Liaison Committee, said: “It’s an opportunity to reset how the Government operates and to emphasise some values about what we want to project as a Conservative Party in government.”
He urged Mr Johnson to inject “respect, integrity and trust” into No10, adding: “Certainly in the relationship between the Downing Street machine and the parliamentary party there has been a very strong sense that that has been lacking in recent months.
“We hope the PM will choose people around him who will restore that relationship.”
Once branded a ‘career psychopath’ by David Cameron, Dominic Cummings led the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit, which ruthlessly promoted the lie that the Britain sent the EU £350m a week that could be spent on the NHS instead. He was even played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a TV docu-drama.
But his real prominence came when Boris Johnson hired him to lead up a bullish and abrasive team at 10 Downing Street.
He appealed for “misfits and weirdos” to join No10, only for at least one to leave under a cloud when his past comments were exposed.
Then came his lockdown-breaking jaunt from London to County Durham and Barnard Castle – where the Mirror revealed he had driven 300 miles while his wife had coronavirus symptoms.
After three days of obfuscation Mr Cummings gave a bizarre hour-long press conference in the Downing Street garden, where he claimed a trip to Barnard Castle from his family farm – where he should have been isolating – was to test his eyesight.
Mr Cummings last night claimed he always intended to depart at the end of the year, pointing to a blog saying he should become “largely redundant”.
But all the signs are he is leaving after losing out in a power struggle among the Prime Minister’s inner circle.
Less than 24 hours ago, he claimed reports he threatened to resign on the spot were an “invention”.
The psychodrama has baffled and fascinated staff in No10.
Number 10 and Cabinet Office staff took a sharp intake of breath at 4.30pm, when an email landed in their inboxes with the subject line “staff update.”
Upon opening the email, they found it was, in fact, a reminder to nominate colleagues for the Cabinet Office internal staff awards, known as ‘The Cabbies’.
Meanwhile the much-vaunted televised press conferences – which started the row in the first place – have still not begun.
The White House-style briefings won’t start until December at the earliest as No10 staffers continue to try to soundproof the room.
Officials plan to use an old colonial courtroom in 9 Downing Street, where off-camera press briefings were moved to before the pandemic.
But with its high ceilings and wooding fixtures the acoustics are poor, with the spokesman barely audible just a few metres away.
The budget for making the room TV-friendly is not yet known.
Privately educated in Durham, Dominic Cummings graduated from Oxford University in 1994 and briefly moved to Russia, before moving back to the UK to campaign against joining the Euro.
In 2007 he started working for Michael Gove – where as special advisor he was branded a “career psychopath” by David Cameron.
He and Mr Gove took on teachers and unions, which Mr Cummings branded “the blob”.
And the pair were accused of trying to use private email addresses to avoid disclosing communications under the Freedom of Information Act.
After joining Vote Leave he branded Brexiteers in the European Research Group “useful idiots”, called top Tory David Davis “thick as mince”, claimed some MPs spent the referendum “chasing girls” and other Brexiteer economists were “charlatans”.
Vote Leave was later fined £61,000 for electoral offences during the referendum. There is no suggestion Mr Cummings was personally responsible.
The former Vote Leave chief repeatedly refused to answer MPs’ questions. In 2019 he was found to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to give evidence to a committee of MPs investigating “fake news”.
Mr Cummings repeatedly cast himself as a voice of real Brits outside the elite of Westminster – claiming “rich Remainers” were trying to stop Brexit happening.
Critics, however, pointed to his own wealth and his friends in the upper echelons of the Tory party.
He and his wife Mary Wakefield – whose father, Sir Humphrey, owned ‘Britain’s most haunted castle’ Chillingham Castle in Northumberland – bought their Islington townhouse for £1.65m in 2013 and later applied to extend it.
The luxurious home features a separate ‘Tapestry Room’, ‘Reading Room’ and ‘Formal Living Room’.
People in Barnard Castle tonight welcomed Mr Cummings’ exit.
Learning of the news, Labour town councillor David Fleming said: “Jolly good.
“I don’t think my views on Mr Cummings are suitable for a family newspaper.
“I don’t think he should ever be seen in the county of Durham again.
“I turn 70 on Sunday and this is the best present any man could wish for. It is excellent news and richly deserved.”