Boris Johnson’s dog Dilyn has become the unwitting victim of an increasingly bitter feud between rival factions in his Downing Street ‘court’ – a canine caught in the crossfire between the allies of ousted adviser Dominic Cummings and the Prime Minister’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds.
With smears, claims and counter-claims once again engulfing Downing Street, Mr Cummings has been accused of being behind allegations that the dog cocked its leg over a No 10 aide’s handbag, and chewed on antique furniture and books at the Prime Minister’s countryside retreat – inspiring Mr Johnson to call for someone to ‘please shoot that f****** dog’.
Last night, it was claimed to The Mail on Sunday that Mr Cummings harbours a grudge against Dilyn because the dog once ‘humped his leg’ during a No 10 away day at Chequers. He is now, it was asserted, using Dilyn to fight a proxy war against the PM’s fiancee.
Mr Cummings has been accused by friends of Ms Symonds of being behind allegations that the dog cocked its leg over a No 10 aide’s handbag, and chewed on antique furniture and books at the Prime Minister’s countryside retreat
It means just hours before Mr Johnson unveils his long-awaited roadmap out of lockdown, Downing Street is embroiled in renewed chaos following the resignation of a Cummings loyalist amid an alleged power-grab by Ms Symonds.
Ms Symonds played a pivotal role in November’s ousting of Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, the director of communications and a fellow member of the Vote Leave faction.
On Friday, one of the last remaining members of this group was forced out of Downing Street. Oliver Lewis, nicknamed Sonic because of his supposed resemblance to the computer game character Sonic the Hedgehog, quit after the Prime Minister accused him of briefing against Michael Gove, reportedly based on information provided to him by Ms Symonds.
Mr Lewis, who played a key role in the successful EU trade talks with Lord Frost, the former chief Brexit negotiator, had been appointed head of the new No 10 ‘union unit’ to counter demands for Scottish independence just two weeks ago.
Other senior advisers are also understood to be on the brink of resigning.
Ms Symonds played a pivotal role in November’s ousting of Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, the director of communications and a fellow member of the Vote Leave faction. On Friday, one of the last remaining members of this group (Oliver Lewis, left) was forced out of Downing Street. Lord Frost is pictured right
Stuck in the middle of all the drama is Dilyn. As the feuding has intensified, increasingly negative stories have appeared about the dog’s behaviour. Reports yesterday suggested Mr Johnson had been left with a four-figure repair bill for the damage at Chequers.
An insider said: ‘I was at a meeting where Dilyn darted under the PM’s feet with an old book in its mouth. The PM shouted, ‘For God’s sake, I’m going to get another £1,000 repair bill! Someone please shoot that f****** dog!’ Luckily, Carrie wasn’t around to hear him.’
They added: ‘I don’t think he meant it literally.’
It followed another story about ‘Dilyn’s Watergate’, which saw him cock a leg over the handbag of aide Katy Lam – who then left No 10.
It was reported that Ms Symonds was ‘very angry’ with the reaction from Miss Lam.
A Downing Street spokesman said that there was no suggestion that her departure was linked to the incident.
One Tory source pointed the finger at Mr Cummings, and traced the animosity back to an away day at the Prime Minister’s Buckinghamshire home.
One said: ‘Cummings was chatting away to his friends when Dilyn ran up to him and mounted him, leaving him absolutely furious. He was raging as he tried to get the dog off of him.
Last night, it was claimed to The Mail on Sunday that Mr Cummings harbours a grudge against Dilyn because the dog once ‘humped his leg’ during a No 10 away day at Chequers. He is now, it was asserted, using Dilyn to fight a proxy war against the PM’s fiancee
‘Everyone was laughing – and Dom doesn’t like being laughed at. After that he would bitch about poor Dilyn to anyone who’d listen.’
The latest infighting flared after Lord Frost and Mr Lewis were both spooked by the recent appointment of two key FOCs – Friends of Carrie – to key positions in Downing Street: Henry Newman, as a senior adviser, and Simone Finn, as deputy chief of staff and ‘gatekeeper’ to No 10.
Fearing that he was being squeezed out, Lord Frost threatened to resign. Mr Johnson, who relies heavily on the peer’s advice, reacted by appointing him to the Cabinet as Minister responsible for overseeing post-Brexit trading opportunities.
That had the knock-on effect of infuriating Mr Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, who lost large chunks of his portfolio to Lord Frost, including the chairmanship of a committee on implementing the Brexit withdrawal deal.
As one friend of Mr Gove’s put it last night: ‘It was Michael’s idea to create a ministerial Brexit role. It seems that no good deed goes unpunished.’ The friend added: ‘People are always projecting false intentions on to Michael. He could leave a bath squeaky clean and within minutes have 27 plots attributed to him.’
Complicating the picture even further is the fact that both Mr Newman and Lady Finn are former close advisers to Mr Gove – indeed they were both present at the meeting during the 2016 leadership campaign which took the decision that Mr Gove should ‘knife’ Boris Johnson by withdrawing support for his campaign.
‘Boris has allowed his assassins into the Theatre of Pompey,’ said the friend, in reference to the place where Julius Caesar was killed by Roman senators.
It is understood that the breaking point for Mr Lewis came when Mr Newman refused a request to attend a meeting last week. Members of the Vote Leave faction describe it as ‘beyond ironic’ that Mr Lewis is being forced out over allegations of leaking, given that they claim an investigation into the identity of the ‘Chatty Rat’ who leaked the decision to call a second lockdown last November had identified Mr Newman as the culprit.
They also say the results of the inquiry, by Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, were buried on the orders of Ms Symonds.
Mr Newman denies being the ‘Chatty Rat’ and No 10 denies burying the inquiry at Ms Symonds’s request.
An additional layer of drama – one source said that ‘every day in No 10 is like an episode of Hollyoaks’ – is provided by tensions over the role of Dan Rosenfeld, a former Treasury civil servant who was brought in as Mr Johnson’s chief of staff after the departure of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain.
Fearing that he was being squeezed out, Lord Frost threatened to resign. Mr Johnson, who relies heavily on the peer’s advice, reacted by appointing him to the Cabinet as Minister responsible for overseeing post-Brexit trading opportunities
Mr Rosenfeld is the subject of hostile briefings from all sides, with sources claiming variously that a ‘sack Dan’ campaign has already started after a No 10 official left in protest at his management style. It is also claimed that he had been heard ‘shouting’ at Mr Lewis for alleged leaking and that his performances in meetings were imbued with the ‘false bonhomie’ of David Brent in The Office.
A source claimed: ‘Boris says he doesn’t like Rosenfeld, and thinks he will be gone before the end of the year.’
Slurs have also been aimed at Lord Frost, whose intended promotion to the role of National Security Adviser was abruptly cancelled after Mr Cummings’s departure.
One source told The Mail on Sunday: ‘Frost is running out of pals, apart from Boris. The deep state stepped in to make sure that he didn’t get the security job. They rose up and said, ‘F*** off’. Why would the spooks say No?’
The implication that ‘vetting’ of Lord Frost by the spy agencies had uncovered a potential security risk in his appointment is without foundation. It is ‘total nonsense’, according to a government source.
Despite their shared political history, allies of Mr Gove fear that the appointments of Lady Finn and Mr Newman have reduced Mr Gove’s influence in No10 because they – but never him – are regularly invited into the Downing Street flat by Ms Symonds. The union unit, which was meant to have been revamped and strengthened under Mr Lewis to prepare the Government for the Prime Minister’s next big challenge after Covid – keeping the United Kingdom together – has had an inauspicious start.
There have been ‘two assassinations within a month’ – former MP Luke Graham was ousted in favour of the equally short-lived Mr Lewis. During his short term, Mr Lewis said he felt he was ‘in limbo’ while waiting for a response to his proposals to ‘beef up’ the unit by putting it ‘on steroids’.
He wanted to report directly to the Prime Minister and pull in civil servants from the Cabinet Office, but realised his position was becoming increasingly ‘diluted’. Mr Newman has been both Mr Gove’s right-hand man and a close friend of Ms Symonds for years.
The FOCs have communicated, some say plotted, for years on a WhatsApp group together called the Phoenix – the mythical bird which rises from the ashes.
While Mr Newman and Baroness Finn are both allies and close aides of Mr Gove, insiders said their loyalty right now is primarily with Ms Symonds.
Following Mr Newman and Baroness Finn’s appointment, another key aide, Mr Johnson’s political secretary Ben Gascoigne, has had to be talked out of quitting.
Mr Gascoigne has been part of No 10’s recent attempt to charm Tory MPs through briefings by Mr Rosenfeld and Press Secretary Allegra Stratton, who was hired to conduct daily White House-style televised press conferences in a revamped studio. The briefings have been delayed until the easing of the current lockdown, although some insiders question whether they will ever begin. Ms Stratton’s recruitment started the chain of events which led to the ousting of Mr Cummings and Mr Cain.
Most MPs, pondering whether Mr Gove’s position has been weakened by the machinations, have concluded he is being lined up for another Cabinet job in a summer reshuffle which will put him in charge of a big department – but away from the ‘centre of power’.
One senior Tory source said: ‘Boris will always be wary of Gove because he tried to kill him.
‘This is the diminution of Michael Gove, stopping him from having input into every area of government. The reshuffle will tell us the truth.’
The Prime Minister is expected to make the changes in June, after the local elections and the main vaccine rollout has been completed, followed by a ‘reset’ Queen’s Speech at the end of the month.
Priti Patel could be moved from the Home Office to Party Chairman, a demotion, but one she would struggle to turn down. A source said: ‘If you want to be leader, as Priti obviously does, then you can’t really turn down the party.’
The reshuffle is also expected to bring in new faces, with pressure to give the new ‘Red Wall’ Tories some representation in government.
As for Dilyn’s role in the drama, one source explains the root of the problem: ‘If it hadn’t been for Covid, Dilyn would have been to the vets by now to be neutered. He is basically on heat the whole time.’
A Tory source claimed last night: ‘Poor Sonic was totally weaponised by Dom. It’s tragic. Let’s hope Dom gets a new job soon so he stops his low-grade briefing against a defenceless dog.’ Mr Cummings declined to comment.
Additional reporting: Katie Hind and Anna Mikhailova