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Mr Cain, one of the Prime Minister’s closest aides, has quit Downing Street amid reports of a bitter power struggle within Number 10. And former BBC political heavyweight Mr Neil, who blames Mr Cain for Mr Johnson’s refusal to grant a pre-election interview, was quick to respond to the announcement of his imminent departure.
I guess doing your master’s bidding
He tweeted: “So farewell, Lee Cain. Can’t recall ever meeting you but you were the one who kept stringing us alone during the 2019 campaign saying Boris Johnson really wanted to do a BBC interview with me, it was just matter of logistics.
“B***, wasn’t it? But I guess doing your master’s bidding.”
Mr Cain had been offered the post of chief of staff but a backlash among Tories and Mr Johnson’s inner circle ultimately led him to announce his departure from No 10 rather than take a promotion.
His exit has sparked speculation that he could be followed by fellow Vote Leave campaigner Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s top adviser who is seen as the most powerful figure in No 10.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman James Slack, who confirmed he would be replacing Mr Cain when he departs in the new year, insisted that Mr Johnson was not being distracted from the national crisis by the bitter row.
He said: “You’ve seen from the Prime Minister this week that he’s absolutely focused on taking all the steps that are required to equip the country to beat coronavirus,” the spokesman said.
Mr Slack, a former journalist who also served as Theresa May’s official spokesman when she led the country, said he would remain a civil servant when he succeeds Mr Cain.
Westminster was on resignation watch for other key figures in Downing Street.
Mr Cummings, a close political ally of the departing communications chief having worked together since the Brexit campaign, was said to be unhappy with the way his friend had been treated.
But it is reported he is staying put for now to work on the Government’s response to COVID-19 and Government sources said Lord Frost will not be standing down as chief Brexit negotiator.
Mr Cummings declined to answer journalists’ questions as he left his home this morning, while Mr Cain was spotted heading into No 10 clutching a coffee.
Conservative backbencher Sir Roger Gale said: “The Government, and Downing Street particularly, should be concentrating all of its efforts on the pandemic and on the end game of Brexit, and frankly this is a distraction that cannot and should not be allowed to take place and the Prime Minister has got to get a grip on it.”
In his resignation statement, Mr Cain confirmed he had been offered a promotion to the key position of the Prime Minister’s chief of staff.
The move – which would have meant he was one of just a handful of people in No 10 with direct one-to-one access to Mr Johnson – was seen as entrenching the grip of the Vote Leave faction on the Downing Street operation.
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But it ran into immediate resistance, with Mr Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds – who has clashed in the past with Mr Cummings – reportedly strongly opposed to the appointment.
Allegra Stratton, the former broadcaster brought in to host televised No 10 news conferences from next year, was also said to have objected to the appointment.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio the Downing Street infighting was “pathetic”.
He said: “We’re in the middle of a pandemic. We’re all worried about our health and families, we’re all worried about our jobs, and this lot are squabbling behind the door of No 10.”
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