Oliver Lewis became a pivotal player in the Downing Street set up, serving as Lord Frost’s deputy on Brexit
One of Boris Johnson’s key Brexit advisors resigned from his anti-Scottish independence role last night amid a new outbreak of infighting among the Prime Minister’s backroom team – where more allies of Carrie Symonds are taking key positions.
Oliver Lewis, who was right-hand man to chief Brexit negotiator Lord Frost (who was last week appointed to the cabinet), walked out of No 10 after he angrily denied claims of disloyalty.
Mr Lewis, nicknamed Sonic due to his supposed resemblance to Sonic the Hedgehog, was reportedly told by the Prime Minister that he faced allegations of ‘briefing against the Government’.
But friends of Mr Lewis, an ally of Mr Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, said he strongly refuted the allegation.
‘Oliver was deeply shocked and said he would never do such a thing, that he had worked tirelessly and loyally for the Prime Minister and felt he had no choice but to resign,’ said one friend.
His resignation is the latest evidence of what one government source referred to as the ‘non-stop Downing Street psychodrama’.
Reports say Mr Lewis left after he was blamed by Miss Symonds and her allies for leaking.
An ally of Mr Lewis told The Times: ‘On Thursday the prime minister b******ed Oliver [for leaking], so he reached the conclusion that Carrie was in charge now and the prime minister wasn’t going to have his back any more.
‘It’s a complete Carrie takeover.’
Reports say Miss Symonds, nicknamed ‘Princess Nut Nut’ by Cummings allies, had been a key player in the removal of Dominic Cummings and former director of communications Lee Cain – as well as being involved in the decision to bring in Baroness Finn as deputy chief of staff and senior advisor Henry Newman.
Ms Symonds was reportedly labelled a ‘princess’ for what her foes claimed was regal behaviour while the ‘nut’ is believed to be a poor-taste joke about her being ‘crazy’.
A political ally of Mr Johnson said that it is now turning into ‘the court of Henry VIII’.
‘Wolsey [Cummings] has had the chop and it all depends on who Anne Boleyn favours now,’ they said.
Lewis had also allegedly been under fire from Mr Johnson’s new chief of staff Dan Rosenfield. A source told The Times: ‘Dan has wanted to get rid of Oliver too but it’s all coming from the same place. It’s a complete clearout of anyone associated with Dom [Cummings].’
It comes after surprise changes this week. The Prime Minister’s appointment of Baroness Finn as the new deputy chief of staff at No 10, with Michael Gove’s former aide Henry Newman as her assistant, was seen as a mark of the growing political influence of Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds.
Pictured left to right: Simone Finn, Henry Newman, Dilyn and Carrie Symonds
UK chief trade negotiator David Frost looks on as Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement
The pair are friends with Miss Symonds, who previously worked at Tory HQ, and their promotions have enflamed tensions between the warring factions in Mr Johnson’s inner circle.
Lord Frost was given a Cabinet seat after threatening to resign over the Finn and Newman appointments. Both are allies of Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Carrie Symonds.
Ben Gascoigne, the prime minister’s political secretary, also threatened his resignation and it is believed that at least two other senior officials are considering giving up their positions too.
Last weekend Lord Frost, the architect of the prime minister’s Brexit deal, made clear to the prime minister that he was prepared to walk away.
He insisted that he would be leaving Downing Street but Mr Johnson responded by appointing him as a minister of state in the Cabinet Office, with the responsibility for overseeing the relationship with Europe – after Gove was stripped of his Brexit responsibilities.
And it is understood that Mr Lewis made a similar threat.
He was reportedly on the brink of resigning in December after Mr Cummings left due to infighting but was persuaded to stay by Mr Johnson.
The Prime Minister rewarded Mr Lewis just weeks ago by putting him in charge of No 10’s ‘Union Unit’ which aimed to stop Scotland from breaking away from the UK.
He replaced Luke Graham, a former Conservative MP.
Mr Johnson told Mr Lewis to help Scottish-born Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove ‘build the case for preserving the Union’ in the run-up to Scottish elections in May.
Mr Lewis, who worked alongside Mr Cummings in the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, won widespread praise for the way he helped Lord Frost in the Brexit talks.
He was appointed to lead Mr Johnson’s union unit two weeks ago and replaced former MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, Luke Graham, who had been in the job for less than a year.
Mr Lewis was responsible for the decision to create a ‘narrative of the inevitability of Brexit’. And Mr Johnson wanted him to use his skills to counter Scottish Nationalist claims that independence is ‘inevitable.’
He advised the prime minister to set up a cabinet committee for the Union modelled on the Brexit committees that took charge of the final negotiations with EU officials.
‘Oliver had already drafted a campaign to persuade people they could be passionate Scots and patriotic Britons at the same time,’ said one ally of Mr Lewis, adding: ‘It has all gone to waste because of petty squabbling and ruthless power politics.’
Oxford-educated Mr Lewis had worked closely with Michael Gove on No Deal preparations, and was inspired by Cummings’ love of science to construct an enormous spreadsheet to model difference scenarios styled on techniques used by NASA.
Mr Lewis had previously played a pivotal role in Downing Street, serving as Lord Frost’s deputy on Brexit. He served as a Brexit adviser and has been involved in the crunch negotiations between the UK and the EU as the two sides hammered out the terms of a trade deal.
A former Vote Leave staffer, Brexit policy adviser Mr Lewis was a close ally of Dominic Cummings – who is known to address him by the nickname ‘Sonic’
Lord Frost was given Michael Gove‘s job of overseeing the UK’s new relationship with Brussels and ‘driving through changes to maximise the opportunities of Brexit’.
In a massive promotion, he will become a full member of the Cabinet from March 1.
Insiders revealed the move was linked to an internal dispute over other recent key changes in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street inner circle, involving personal and political allies of his partner Carrie Symonds.
They claimed that Lord Frost, 55, had been opposed to Mr Johnson’s decision last week both to appoint Baroness Finn as deputy to new No.10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield – and to appoint the ex-Gove aide, Henry Newman as her assistant. Both Baroness Finn and Mr Newman are close friends of Miss Symonds.
The pair were in Mr Gove’s team when he famously betrayed Mr Johnson in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.
Baroness Finn and Mr Gove were an item when they left university. She also hosted Miss Symonds’s 30th birthday party in 2018, which was attended by both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove, while Miss Symonds, Baroness Finn and Mr Newman campaigned together in the 2019 election in Wales.
Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, October 13, 2020
According to one source, Mr Johnson’s decision to give Lord Frost a Cabinet post was designed in part to stop him leaving Downing Street altogether. An ally of Lord Frost told the Daily Mail: ‘There was a real danger that Lord Frost would walk.
‘The new appointments in Rosenfield’s team dilute the power of those who have been loyal to Boris over many years. Giving Lord Frost a seat in the Cabinet redresses the balance.’ Supporters of Mr Gove last night denied giving Lord Frost a place in his ministerial team was a ‘snub’ to him – and insisted Mr Gove had suggested the idea himself.
Others maintained it is the latest evidence of deep seated tensions in Mr Johnson’s inner team.
They flared last year when Mr Johnson’s controversial senior Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings and his ally Lee Cain were forced to resign. Mr Cummings and Mr Cain were both close to Lord Frost. But they were heavily criticised by Tory MPs – and critically, had fallen out of favour with Miss Symonds, 32.
Mr Johnson hoped the appointment last month of Treasury civil servant turned banker Mr Rosenfield as his new chief of staff would bring stability to his Downing Street machine. But some officials have claimed Mr Rosenfield has failed to make his mark and that there is a ‘lack of chemistry’ between him and Mr Johnson.
A source says Mr Lewis’ departure came because Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds wants Henry Newman running the Union instead, highlighting how tensions are still present within Downing Street over the parting of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, ITV political editor Robert Peston says
There have also been reports Mr Rosenfield has clashed with two more Johnson aides in Number 10, Lord Lister and Policy Unit chief Munira Mirza, both of whom – like Lord Frost – worked for Mr Johnson in his London mayoral days.
Miss Symonds counts Mr Newman as one of her closest confidants in politics. She sought his advice when weighing up whether to challenge the release from jail of John Worboys, the so-called Black Cab rapist, who targeted her when she was a teenager.
When her relationship with Mr Johnson became public in 2018, Mr Newman hit back at her critics, writing on Twitter: ‘Carrie Symonds coverage too often reflects a misogyny that attractive women can’t also be talented.’
Baroness Finn was one of around 90 women in Westminster to sign an open letter saying the treatment of the ex-Tory press officer had been ‘appalling’.
The trio have also taken to the streets together to help fellow Conservatives get elected – with her adopted puppy Dilyn.
The promotion of Lord Frost to the Cabinet Office prompted speculation that Scots born Mr Gove may be put in charge of a new Cabinet drive to stop Scotland breaking away from the UK.
The surprise announcement means Lord Frost replaces Mr Gove as chairman of the Cabinet committee tasked with implementing the Brexit divorce agreement. Lord Frost yesterday praised the way Mr Gove had handled talks with the EU, saying ‘I stand on the shoulders of giants.’
Mr Gove said there was ‘no one better to take forward our post-Brexit relationship with the EU.’
Mr Gove will keep his Cabinet table seat and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster remains above Lord Frost in the Cabinet Office pecking order.
The SNP’s Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald claimed Mr Johnson’s ‘taxpayer-funded anti-independence campaign is completely falling apart’.
‘As support for independence grows, the Tories are losing advisers like rats on a sinking ship. People in Scotland have a right to determine their own future in a post-pandemic referendum. Boris Johnson knows he cannot deny democracy any more than Donald Trump.
‘The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson? The only way to ensure Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands not Boris Johnson’s is with both votes SNP.’
Downing Street declined to comment on staffing matters.