October 2. 2022. 8:34

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Fifth Boris Johnson aide leaves Downing Street as resignations continue

British prime minister Boris Johnson is taking charge of his Downing Street team by making changes after a row over lockdown parties, his business and energy secretary Greg Hands said on Friday. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

British prime minister Boris Johnson is taking charge of his Downing Street team by making changes after a row over lockdown parties, his business and energy secretary Greg Hands said on Friday.

Mr Johnson is fighting to shore up his premiership in the face of growing anger over a series of lockdown parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns and questions about his often chaotic style of leadership.

Four of Mr Johnson’s closest aides resigned on Thursday while finance minister Rishi Sunak said he would not have made a false claim that the opposition Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer had failed to prosecute sex offender Jimmy Savile.

It appeared that the resignations were not over on Friday, with the Conservative Home website reporting that Elena Narozanski has become the second adviser to quit the No 10 policy unit.

Former Downing Street aide Nikki da Costa said Ms Narozanski is “one of the most principled women I know”, adding: “Another big loss to the policy unit.”

Senior Tory MP Huw Merriman, who chairs the Commons Transport Committee, said he was “deeply troubled” by the situation, and told Mr Johnson to improve or leave Downing Street for good.

Asked on Friday what was going on in Downing Street, Mr Hands told Sky: “Resignations have been made, resignations have been accepted.”

“This is the prime minister taking charge,” he said, adding that he could not say who would be replacing Mr Johnson’s chief of staff, Dan Rosenfield, who resigned on Thursday.

Mr Johnson pledged to change his leadership style after a report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the gatherings held at his Downing Street office and residence condemned “serious failures of leadership”.

Torrid day

In a torrid day for the prime minister, his principal private secretary, director of communications and policy chief quit Downing Street within hours.

Munira Mirza, the former director of the No 10 policy unit and one of Mr Johnson’s most loyal and longstanding advisers, walked out after attacking the prime minister’s use of the “scurrilous” Savile smear against Mr Starmer.

The exit of private secretary Martin Reynolds had widely been expected after he reportedly sent an email inviting at least 100 staff to a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden during the first lockdown in England.

Communications chief Jack Doyle repotedly gave a resignation speech to staff in No 10 in which he said the tumultuous recent weeks had “taken a terrible toll on my family life”. The former journalist is reported to have attended at least two of the 12 lockdown-busting events in Downing Street and wider government that are under scrutiny by the Metropolitan Police, with officers following up on Ms Gray’s inquiries.

But it was Ms Mirza’s stinging resignation letter that will likely be seen as most damaging to Mr Johnson, who had previously listed her as one of the five women who had influenced and inspired him the most.


Conservative grandee Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a former foreign secretary, told the BBC that Ms Mirza’s decision to quit showed the prime minister had become “toxic”.

“With the best will in the world, one has to say this is not so much the end of the beginning but it is the beginning of the end,” he told Newsnight.

In a letter seen by The Spectator magazine, Ms Mirza, who first advised Mr Johnson as London mayor more than a decade ago, said she had urged her boss to apologise for giving a “misleading impression” about Mr Starmer’s role in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) failure to prosecute Savile.

She accused the PM of making an “inappropriate and partisan reference to a horrendous case of child sex abuse” and said he had “let yourself down”.

Mr Johnson, who said he was “sorry to lose” his close confidante, backtracked on the debunked claim the opposition leader was instrumental in opting not to pursue Savile while director of public prosecutions (DPP), but stopped short of giving the apology Ms Mirza demanded.

Mr Sunak, seen as a potential successor to Mr Johnson, also criticised the prime minister over his comments, as he admitted in a live broadcast from Downing Street that he “wouldn’t have” used the Savile jibe. – PA/Reuters

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