Tory MPs hail chance for fresh start when Dominic Cummings leaves, despite confusion over his departure

But No 10 stamps on Brussels’ hopes of new approach to make no-deal Brexit deal less likely

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Friday 13 November 2020 22:01 GMT
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

Tory MPs and politicians in Brussels have hailed the chance of a fresh start when Dominic Cummings departs – despite confusion over whether he will sever his links with Boris Johnson entirely.

Backbenchers spoke of their hope of a less bruising No 10 operation – restoring “respect, integrity and trust”, as one put it – after the controversial aide signalled he would leave by mid-December.

Theresa Villiers, the former environment secretary, attacked his “dismissive attitude” to ministers and MPs, saying: “This is an opportunity to move on from that and to have a more collaborative approach.”

A senior MEP also expressed optimism that a no-deal Brexit deal was now less of a danger, with the hardline Mr Cummings going, but the suggestion of a new approach was quickly stamped on by Downing Street.

No 10 also sparked confusion, by refusing to say if he has formally quit or whether he will cut all his connections, amid a suggestion that he could retain a ‘hot desk’ near the centre of power.

The only evidence that Mr Cummings is going is a statement, to the BBC on Thursday evening, that his “position hasn't changed since my January blog”.

However, in that post, he said only: “We want to improve performance and make me much less important – and within a year largely redundant.”

Mr Cummings has also insisted, amid the infighting over the resignation of his close ally Lee Cain, the former No 10 communications chief, that “rumours of me threatening to resign are invented”.

Nevertheless, Bernard Jenkin, who chairs the Commons Liaison Committee, welcomed an opportunity to restore “respect, integrity and trust” that had been “lacking in recent months”.

“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 said.

Arguing that “no prime minister can afford a single adviser to become a running story”, Sir Bernard added: “I'm not surprised in a way that it is ending in the way it is. Nobody is indispensable.”

Ms Villiers said: “Clearly there are concerns about the dismissive attitude sometimes shown by Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings towards people in government and MPs on the backbenches.”

And Roger Gale, another Tory MP, called for a powerful chief of staff, saying: “Frankly, this is a distraction that cannot and should not be allowed to take place, and the prime minister has got to get a grip on it.”

In Brussels, Manfred Weber, a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, blamed the “chaotic situation” for the Brexit turmoil, urging the Prime minister to now “take over responsibility”.

Mr Cummings’ departure was “probably the sign that Johnson has begun his U-turn and will in the end accept EU conditions" for a trade deal, said Phillippe Lambert, who sat on the European Parliament’s Brexit committee.

But the claim was stamped on by the prime minister’s spokesman, who said: “Absolutely not. That is simply false. The government’s position in relation to the future trade agreement negotiations is unchanged.”

The negotiations remain deadlocked, ahead of an EU deadline of next Thursday, when it is believed Brussels could make a “take-it-or leave-it” offer.

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