‘Some loud bloke who stunk of booze yelling at us’: Dominic Cummings faces backlash from all sides as Boris Johnson government descends into chaos

Under mounting pressure from across the house, PM’s senior adviser said to have shouted at Jeremy Corbyn outside parliament

Zamira Rahim
Wednesday 04 September 2019 18:36 BST
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Sir Roger Gale: 'To have an unelected, foul-mouth oaf at the heart of Downing Street is dangerous'

Dominic Cummings is facing a growing backlash from all sides after Boris Johnson suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of rebel Conservatives.

Some Downing Street officials have reportedly blamed the prime minister’s senior adviser for a calamitous night, which saw 21 MPs expelled from the Tory party.

“He despises politicians, presumably despises the process of democratic politics, only sees it as a vehicle to use,” Alistair Burt, one of the rebels, said of the adviser.

“I think that’s an extremely concerning situation and the prime minister will need to look as to how to address that.”

The Independent understands that Mr Cummings approached Jeremy Corbyn late on Tuesday night and issued a bellowed challenge to accept a general election.

The former Vote Leave chief was appointed as a senior adviser to the prime minister in July.

He quickly became an unpopular figure on the opposition benches but was considered an invaluable strategist by Conservatives.

Mr Cummings had previously been found in contempt of parliament, for repeatedly refusing to appear before the Commons’ inquiry into fake news.

Following the appointment of Mr Cummings, the Liberal Democrats wrote to Sir Mark Sedwill, the UK’s most senior mandarin, urging him to block it.

But the 47-year-old went on to play a key role in shaping the government’s Brexit strategy.

On Tuesday, that strategy appeared to be in disarray, after MPs voted to seize control of the Commons agenda, paving the way for legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit to be passed.

The government was defeated by a margin of 328 to 301, with 21 Conservative MPs rebelling against the party.

All the rebels, including Philip Hammond, Ken Clarke, Sir Nicholas Soames and Rory Stewart, have lost the Conservative whip as punishment.

The backlash continued during Mr Johnson’s first PMQs as leader, with another Tory rebel, Margot James, saying: “The great lady [Margaret Thatcher], who you and I both revere ... once said, ‘Advisers advise, ministers decide.’

“Can I ask the prime minister to bear that statement closely in mind in relation to his own chief adviser, Dominic Cummings?”

Sam Gyimah, a former cabinet minister who was part of the group, told Sky News the rebels’ parliamentary passes had been disabled following the vote.

However, Commons authorities insisted no members’ passes had been suspended.

No 10 had hoped the threat of deselection would force some rebels to think twice.

“[Cummings has] made Nick Timothy look like Mary Poppins,” a Downing Street source told Politico.

“This is not on Boris. Of course the PM takes responsibility – he’s the big man and the buck stops with him — but we all know this is Cummings and [director of communications] Lee Cain.

“They’ve cooked up this strategy and they’ve told him it’s going to work and he’s trusted them. And now we’re throwing Winston Churchill’s grandson out of the Conservative Party.”

Mr Cummings is believed to have berated the rebels for an “extended period of time” while they waited to meet the prime minister earlier on Tuesday.

“I don’t know who any of you are,” he said, according to The Huffington Post.

The senior adviser was later seen in the parliamentary press corridor, shortly before the vote.

“I just bumped into Dominic Cummings, who was clutching a glass of red wine and wandering along the parliamentary press corridor, lost and looking for a particular newspaper office,” said Peter Walker, a political correspondent for The Guardian, on Twitter.

“This is not a usual occurrence.”

After the result, Mr Cummings is said to have approached Mr Corbyn, who was leaving Portcullis House with members of his shadow cabinet.

“Come on Jeremy let’s do this election, don’t be scared,” the 47-year-old shouted, according to a tweet posted by Tim Shipman, the political editor of The Sunday Times.

The journalist has since deleted his tweet.

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The Independent understands that Mr Cummings approached the Labour leader and his cabinet ministers as they were leaving the building late on Tuesday evening.

Sources said the shout was not aggressive nor threatening and was merely boisterous. Mr Corbyn climbed into his car and did not respond.

“As one of several shadow cabinet members stood right next to Jeremy (who was on the phone at the time) I just thought there was some loud bloke who stunk of booze yelling at us,” said Cat Smith, the Labour MP, on Twitter.

Asked if Mr Johnson was content with his adviser shouting at Mr Corbyn about whether he wanted an election, a Downing Street source said: “It’s a perfectly legitimate question for the leader of the opposition to answer. The prime minister would very much welcome Jeremy Corbyn answering that question.”

The source added that Mr Johnson “doesn’t comment on his advisers”.

Tuesday’s vote has left the government with few options. Mr Johnson has said he will request an election under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, if legislation to block a no-deal Brexit is passed.

But it is unclear if he has the votes to call an early election under the act.

The easiest way to ensure one is for Mr Johnson to secure a two-thirds majority in the Commons.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservative rebels have all indicated that they will not vote for an early election.

Mr Corbyn has said Labour will back an election after a no-deal Brexit is successfully blocked.

If an election is not called, Mr Johnson faces a difficult period as the prime minister of a weakened minority government, with a looming Brexit deadline and an unpopular senior adviser.

Mr Cummings’ political affiliations have also been the subject of fevered speculation in Westminster.

On Tuesday the adviser was asked if he was a member of the Conservative Party and he refused to answer.

He gave a speech in 2017, in which he said: “People think, and by the way I think most people are right, ‘The Tory party is run by people who basically don’t care about people like me.’

“That is what most people in the country have thought about the Tory party for decades. I know a lot of Tory MPs and I am sad to say the public is basically correct.”

Tory MPs largely do not care about these poorer people. They don’t care about the NHS. And the public has kind of cottoned on to that.”

The aide’s ambiguous political affiliation has triggered angry reactions in the Tory ranks.

“I think Mr Johnson’s senior political advisor, Dominic Cummings, is in danger of tearing the party apart,” Sir Roger Gale, Tory MP for North Thanet, told ITV News.

“I think that to have an unelected foul-mouthed oaf at the heart of Downing Street is dangerous and unacceptable."

Sir Roger said the aide should be “frogmarched out of Downing Street” and claimed he had treated the Tory rebels in an appalling manner.

“This is my party. I have been a member of this party for 45 years,” former chancellor Philip Hammond said on Tuesday morning, hours before he was expelled.

“I am going to defend my party against incomers, entryists, who are trying to turn it from a broad church to narrow faction,” he added, in a thinly veiled jab at Mr Cummings.

“People who are at the heart of this government, who are probably not even members of the Conservative Party, who care nothing about the future of the Conservative Party.”

Mr Cummings has been contacted for comment.

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