A row has been sparked over the appointment of Steve Barclay as chief of staff in No 10.
Boris Johnson faced a backlash from Tories and Whitehall insiders who warned that giving him the twin roles of chief of staff and minister in charge of the Cabinet Office as well as being an MP with constituents to help was an “impossible juggling act” and a “recipe for chaos.”
Mr Barclay, who is also heading the cross-government review of the Channel migrant crisis, was appointed at the weekend as part of a “reset” of Mr Johnson’s premiership to satisfy backbench Tory demands for a shake-up of the error-prone Downing Street operation.
“It’s completely and utterly illogical to have a Cabinet minister as effectively chief of staff and being an MP. There’s no way it can work with all those other responsibilities,” said one former minister.
Andrew Bridgen, one of the 15 MPs who have called for the Prime Minister to step down, said: “It’s academic in a way whether it reassures Conservative MPs or not because we answer to the electorate and they are not happy.”
‘Changes were supposed to bring order’
Nick Timothy, who was joint chief of staff to Theresa May, said the “sheer workload” of being a minister, constituency MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, chair of Cabinet committees and chief of staff would be a problem.
“Taken with the loss of senior staff and the involvement of outsiders who advise a bit, brief a bit, but aren’t privy to all the information needed and not there to do and oversee the work, it’s a recipe for chaos when these changes were supposed to bring order,” tweeted Mr Timothy.
Another senior Tory adviser said: “Even as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster [Mr Barclay’s official title] alone, you are pulled in loads of different directions, but to add chief of staff feels like an impossible juggling act.
“They were struggling to fill it and that’s not meant as a slight on Steve, just that ideally you wouldn’t be combining it with other jobs if good people were putting their hands up.”
Jonathan Powell, who was the chief of staff to Tony Blair, said it “all seems a bit desperate” as he questioned who would pay his chief of staff salary and if it would count against his taxpayer-funded ministerial wages
A government source said Mr Barclay would have desks in No 10 and the Cabinet office, and that many of his current ministerial responsibilities will be redistributed to other ministers within the Cabinet office. He will, however, continue to chair Cabinet committees and lead the department.
Unlike Dan Rosenfield, his predecessor as chief of staff and one of five resignations from No 10 last week, the source said Mr Barclay will not be paid as a special adviser but via his ministerial salary. Whether he will get any uplift for the extra responsibility is to be “worked through,” said a source.
Role could be supported by permanent secretary
His role could be supported by the appointment this week of a permanent secretary to head the new Office of the Prime Minister, along with a new parliamentary private secretary (PPS) to Boris Johnson to replace Andrew Griffiths, another MP who has been brought in to head No 10’s policy unit.
A government spokesman said: “The Chief of Staff role will focus primarily on driving the Government’s agenda and ensuring it is better aligned with Cabinet and backbenchers.
“In his dual role as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Chief of Staff, alongside his extensive experience as an MP, Steve Barclay will be well placed to ensure the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda is delivered at maximum speed while strengthening Cabinet government and providing an enhanced role for Ministers and Parliament.”
Dame Emily Lawson, the head of NHS England’s vaccination programme, is regarded as a frontrunner for the new permanent secretary of the Prime Minister’s office. Changes are also expected in the whips’ office but Downing Street insisted there were no wider plans for a reshuffle.
Dominic Cummings is expected to make further allegations about the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat on Monday.
The Government rejected claims that Guto Harri, the new director of communications, was on six-month leave of absence from his work at Hawthorn Advisers, in case the No 10 role was not long term. Mr Harri, former BBC presenter, worked with Mr Johnson when he was London mayor.
“Guto Harri has resigned from Hawthorn Advisers. As with all Special Advisers, he will serve in his role for as long as the PM asks him to,” said a source. They declined to say if he would be paid more than his predecessor.
Mr Johnson is in talks to appoint David Canzini, a protege of Sir Lynton Crosby, the Australian election guru, who is advising the Prime Minister behind the scenes. They are understood to want a wider cull of other aides who have clashed with MPs and ministers before committing to a formal role.