Boris Johnson has this evening unveiled the second stage of his Downing Street shake-up. After the Prime Minister rushed forward the departure of his chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and director of communications Jack Doyle when his policy chief Munira Mirza quit on Thursday, replacements have been announced. The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay is Johnson’s new chief of staff – and will be in charge of integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office. Meanwhile, Guto Harri has been appointed director of communications – he served as Johnson’s spokesman during his first term as London mayor.
Further appointments are expected in the coming days, with ‘a particular focus on improving engagement and liaison with MPs’. This is expected to include a role for Lynton Crosby ally David Canzini. Announcing the news, Johnson said: ‘The changes I’m announcing to my senior team today will improve how No. 10 operates, strengthen the role of my Cabinet and backbench colleagues, and accelerate our defining mission to level up the country.’
So, what do the appointments tell us? The trickiest role to fill was chief of staff given that it is the most politically contentious. There had been talk that Simone Finn – deputy chief of staff – could be promoted. However, this was viewed by some in Johnson’s inner circle as risky given that Finn is seen by MPs to be close to Johnson’s wife Carrie – meaning it could have been viewed as that faction gaining control (in this vein, the Sunday Times reports that the aide and close friend of Carrie, Henry Newman, is to leave No. 10 and become an adviser for Michael Gove). By appointing Barclay, Johnson is trying to send the message that he is listening to his MPs – and they will be consulted more in the future. While Barclay isn’t the heavy hitter appointee some MPs wanted to see, he has impressed as a minister with little ego who is a team player. Appointing an MP to the role of chief of staff does raise questions though about conflicting duties – particularly given Barclay will retain the Cabinet Office brief.
As for Harri, his relationship with Johnson goes back to the Prime Minister’s City Hall days and he is an experienced journalist who worked at the BBC for 18 years. Yet his appointment has the potential to lead to some kickback from the party. In his most recent job at Hawthorn, a PR company co-founded by Conservative party co-chairman Ben Elliot, Harri assisted the company’s Huawei team as it lobbied on 5G infrastructure – which was opposed by many Tory MPs pushing for a tougher stance on China.
Harri’s relationship with Johnson has also had its ups and downs. In 2018, when Johnson compared Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating stance to putting a ‘suicide vest’ around the British constitution, Harri hit out at his former boss saying, ‘he’s digging his political grave’ and would be ‘hugely divisive’ as prime minister. Harri recently quit a presenting role at GB News after he was suspended for taking the knee during a discussion about racism in football. Johnson is currently under pressure from many of his own MPs to ditch the ‘wokery’ and move to the right.
But by announcing these new appointments, Johnson has at least ended speculation that he was unable to fill the positions. The hope amongst Johnson’s team is that it will help to draw a line under recent events. Given that even ministers believe Johnson could face a confidence vote in the next fortnight, the Prime Minister needs all the help he can get.
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