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London: Downing Street sources has condemned "vicious and cowardly" attacks on Carrie Symonds, the Prime Minister's fiancee, over a series of toxic briefings and counter-briefings that have rocked No. 10.

Senior insiders claimed Symonds, a former Tory adviser, was becoming too involved with the workings of No. 10, with the 32-year-old perceived as seeking to "run the government by WhatsApp" from the Prime Minister's official residence. A senior source at No. 10 described the claims as "cowardly, vicious, and designed to wound her".

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, right, with partner Carrie Symonds.Credit:AP

It came as sources claimed that many Downing Street staff believe Johnson will have quit before the next election, with one senior insider stating: "Most don't think he'll be there a year from now."

The war of words followed the departure from No. 10 of Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister's chief aide, and Lee Cain, his communications director, following a bitter power struggle with Symonds, who urged Johnson to oust them.

Last night, a senior insider claimed Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister and a former rival of Johnson for the Tory leadership, saw the chaos "as an opportunity to get Boris out", adding: "He thinks he still has another go at becoming PM."

A government source dismissed the claim as "complete rubbish".

The dramatic claims came as:

  • Johnson prepared to embark on a major effort to repair relations with disaffected backbenchers, including with invitations for MPs to join Downing Street policy task forces, and plans for the Prime Minister to spend more time with parliamentarians in the Commons tea room and No 10;
  • Allegra Stratton, Mr Johnson's new chief spokesman, insisted she was a "Johnson Tory" and voted for Brexit, after doubt was cast on her Conservative credentials and it emerged she had once considered a job offer by David Miliband, then the Labour foreign secretary;
  • The Prime Minister faced a growing revolt over COVID-19 restrictions, as more than 30 MPs who supported the current lockdown joined the new COVID Recovery Group, which opposes an extension of the measures;
  • It emerged that Downing Street has postponed a decision on decriminalising non-payment of the TV licence fee over fears it would lead to elderly people being hounded by bailiffs.

Johnson is understood to be furious at briefings against Symonds, who has been the subject of newspaper reports that she is referred to by Cummings loyalists as "Princess nut nuts", among other nicknames.

Last night, a senior No. 10 source admitted that Symonds made her views clear to Johnson about "his office" and "his team", which included opposing Cain's appointment as chief of staff, "because she has views about the kind of man she knows he is".

But the source insisted: "She wouldn't seek to think that she had more expertise than the official advice he just been given."

However, a senior insider claimed Symonds appeared "determined" to play a significant role in the workings of government, "and that's the heart of the problem." The source said she clearly had strong views about "wholesale change at No. 10", adding that the former Tory communications director is -perceived as "wanting to run the government by WhatsApp from the flat."

The insider claimed: "There is a set of meetings, decisions are taken, then the PM goes upstairs to the flat, then from 9pm WhatsApp messages start to arrive with him changing his mind.

"No decision is ever final."

Insiders allege that Symonds has been responsible for a series of government U-turns. However, a Downing Street source said: "These claims are laughable."

Another No. 10 source compared her involvement in government work to the relationship between Theresa May and her husband Sir Philip, while the pair were in No. 10.

"If she would be making big decisions, she would go and have a chat with Philip… It's a good thing, it's not surprising, and she's very good at this stuff."

But another source said Symonds used the flat "as a sort of private office".

Meanwhile, the senior insider predicted that Rishi Sunak would be Prime Minister within six months and claimed of Johnson: "Nobody in No. 10 thinks he'll be there in 2024. Most don't think he'll be there a year from now."

Tensions between Johnson and his Chancellor are also alleged to be growing over the Prime Minister's spending demands. A No. 10 source insisted: "No-one in their right mind is thinking about elections. The Prime Minister's focus is on fighting coronavirus and protecting jobs."

This week, after installing Lord Udny-Lister, No. 10's chief strategic adviser, as interim chief of staff, Johnson will seek to bring disaffected MPs "back into the fold", including with invitations to join Downing Street task forces on the Union and the Tory policy agenda to "level up" the country.

No. 10 is also planning to revive the Downing Street policy board, with Neil O'Brien, an influential backbencher, touted as a possible chairman.

This week, Johnson will seek to return to his domestic policy agenda with a major speech on climate change.

Stratton faced claims that she was not a "true Conservative", and was outstripped by a rival candidate in an interview process for the spokesman role, which was overseen by Cummings, Cain, and No. 10 officials. But insiders claim Johnson appointed nevertheless, with Symonds' backing. Stratton, who will hold regular televised press conferences at No. 10 said: "I voted for Brexit. And I voted for the Conservatives. In my youth I think I have voted Green, I voted Labour, I voted LibDem. But I'm definitely Brexit and a Johnson Tory."

She confirmed that she considered a job offer from Miliband, the Labour foreign secretary between 2007 and 2010, while in her 20s and working at left-leaning The Guardian, stating: "It's true that David offered me a job while I was at The Guardian and he was foreign secretary, and I didn't take it."

Meanwhile, Damian Green, the former deputy prime minister, and Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the foreign affairs select committee, are among new recruits to the COVID Recovery Group, which is expected to oppose further lockdowns. Both MPs backed the current lockdown, which is due to end on December 2, but Tory backbenchers are concerned that scientific advisers could yet push for an extension.

The Telegraph, London

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