When No. 10 briefed three newspapers on Thursday night that Dominic Cummings was behind a series of damaging leaks against the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson hoped the move would put him on the front foot and calm the government lobbying row. Instead, that decision appears to have spectacularly backfired. After Cummings hit back with an explosive blog, the newspaper briefing has reignited the Downing Street civil war and led to a plethora of stories on the No. 10 power struggle.
The Sunday front pages make for distressing reading for the Prime Minister – ranging from 'MPs fury over Downing St sleaze claims' to concerns within No. 10 over fears Cummings has a 'bombshell dossier'. No. 10 is still struggling to deal with the first set of Cummings revelations – detailed in his blog on Friday – alleging Johnson considered behaving inappropriately on funding the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat and that he pondered the idea of pulling a leak inquiry on lockdown II over concerns it could implicate a close friend of his fiancée Carrie Symonds.
These allegations mean that the story has once again turned not just to the relationship between Cummings and Johnson but also the role of Johnson's partner within government. In the past, No. 10 have been quick to insist Symonds is not a key player and much of the coverage of her is sexist but this line is coming under renewed pressure as more allegations emerge over her influence on the Prime Minister's strategic thinking. The row over the Downing Street flat is also set to rumble on. Although Johnson has now paid the £58,000 himself, MPs as well as the charity commission have questions about his original plans for funding the refurbishment that Symonds is reported to have overseen.
While No. 10 sources suggest Cummings is on a mission to damage No. 10 as he is upset the government is doing so well without him, recent reports hardly paint a picture of the Prime Minister at his happiest. Visitors to the building say 'the ghost of Dom looms large in the building' and the Prime Minister is 'paranoid' when it comes to what his former aide might say or do. Elsewhere, the Sunday Times reports that Johnson's closest allies now compare him to Shakespeare’s King Lear. Johnson is thought to have been so angered by the publication of his private messages to the entrepreneur James Dyson (Cummings denies leaking these messages) that he personally briefed some of the papers over Cummings's alleged role.
So, where does this all lead? The Tories are still high in the polls and it's not clear this will have a big impact on the local elections – the vaccine rollout is likely to be the thing people remember. But it's also clear that these stories cause the Prime Minister great personal anguish. And the most painful part could still be to come. Cummings is due to give evidence before MPs next month on the government's Covid response. What will he say? 'I think he is simply going to tell the truth, which is quite unusual for Westminster,' says one Cummings ally. It's this set piece event that is now giving Downing Street the greatest cause for concern.