Dominic Cummings quit as Boris Johnson’s most powerful aide and will leave the UK government by the end of the year, throwing the future direction of the prime minister’s entire political project into doubt.
The resignation, confirmed by a person familiar with the matter, brings to an end 17 months of combative and often controversial influence of a small group of pro-Brexit officials over the British government.
Cummings is the second key adviser to Johnson to go in the space of a day, after tensions blew up over the way the prime minister’s inner circle operates. Late on Wednesday, Communications Director Lee Cain — who worked with Cummings and Johnson to deliver the 2016 Brexit referendum vote — announced he was standing down.
UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps downplayed the departure of Cummings. “Advisers come and go,” he said in an interview with Sky News. The government will stay focused on the big issues, including the handling of the pandemic, rather than “who happens to be in and out,” Shapps added.
Johnson’s spokesman, James Slack, declined to confirm the departure, telling reporters on Friday that Cummings’s words to the BBC “speak for themselves.”
Cummings has been at the premier’s side since he took power in July 2019, and masterminded the successful Brexit referendum campaign that catapulted Johnson into the front rank of British politics three years earlier. His departure will deprive the premier of his most important adviser and strategist, who has wielded huge influence over all aspects of government policy, from its pandemic response to Brexit and economic reform.
Cain and Cummings were the two closest aides to Johnson in his political team and he will feel their absence. It’s a critical time for the UK, with the country in a second national lockdown and the pandemic death rate rising again, Johnson has just a few days to finalise a Brexit trade deal with the European Union before it’s too late.