A behind-the-scenes feud between Boris Johnson and his ex-aide aide Dominic Cummings has publicly exploded in recent days.
Here’s a look at what’s going on:
What started the briefing war on Downing Street?
Late Thursday night, three newspapers carried the explosive claim, attributed to Sources # 10 – although some reports indicated that Boris Johnson answered the phone to the editors himself – that Dominic Cummings was behind a number of leaks opposing judged the prime minister.
The decision to launch an attack on Mr Cummings, who left number 10 after a power struggle with Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds last year, was ultimately sparked by the leak of text messages showing that the Prime Minister offered to fix a tax issue raised by entrepreneur Sir James Dyson to develop new ventilators for the NHS as a coronavirus pandemic hit.
Mr Cummings was also fingered as the likely culprit in relaying messages between Mr Johnson and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and suspicions were also raised by a series of disclosures about funding for the renovation of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street apartment.
How did Dominic Cummings react?
If revenge is a dish that is best served cold, it seems that Mr. Cummings is offering something straight from the freezer.
In a blog post responding to the allegations, he denied having leaked the Dyson texts but made a number of arson claims about Mr Johnson’s behavior.
He accused the Prime Minister of trying to block the investigation into the leakage of plans for England’s second coronavirus lockdown after learning that a close friend of Ms. Symonds was involved – which the Prime Minister denied.
Mr Cummings also alleged that he told Mr Johnson that “plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation” are “unethical, stupid, possibly illegal and almost certainly violate the rules for proper disclosure of political donations.”
The government has announced that Mr Johnson paid the bill for the renovation himself, despite Labor demanding a full investigation.
However, according to reports, the Conservative Party made an initial payment to the cabinet to cover the renovations and Mr Johnson then repaid the party.
No. 10 has ceased to deny that the party has made a loan to Mr Johnson, and a spokeswoman said instead, “Conservative Party’s funds will not be used.” The use of the present includes a temporary use of Tory money in the Past does not end.
The leaks have continued and ministers strongly denied claims that after ordering the second shutdown in October, Mr Johnson said “no more locks – keep the bodies piled up by the thousands”.
No named sources have been given for the claim, but Mr Cummings is known to have advocated a stricter lockdown line than the Prime Minister.
Mr Johnson denied the statement, stressing that lockdowns had been successful in clearing cases.
Downing Street is ready for further enemy fire from Mr. Cummings when he appears before a Commons selection committee on May 26th.
Does any of this really matter?
Mr Cummings – someone who stood by Mr Johnson’s side during the election campaign and in No. 10 – now believes the Prime Minister has “fallen below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves”.
Whether this can simply be dismissed when a bitter ex-employee attacks his former boss remains to be seen. This certainly seems to be No. 10’s strategy.
But the dispute that followed on the heels of questions about David Cameron’s lobbying against former colleagues was taken up by Labor in the run-up to the May 6 elections as a sign that the government was falling into a “quagmire of laziness.” .
According to a poll by Ipsos Mori conducted in the days leading up to the Cummings allegations, support for the Tories fell five points in a month, although the Conservatives were still 40% ahead of Labor by three points.
There are also legal pitfalls and possible violations of the Ministerial Code or the rules of the Electoral Commission.
Mr Johnson said, “If … a statement needs to be made” it will be “made in due course” while his official spokesman insisted that the Prime Minister “acted in accordance with relevant codes of conduct and electoral law”.