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4 February 2022

Can Boris Johnson survive the exodus from No 10?

The Prime Minister will struggle to attract staff capable of turning his fortunes around.

By Stephen Bush

In the past 24 hours, Boris Johnson has accepted the resignations of his communications director Jack Doyle, his chief of staff Dan Rosenfield and his principal private secretary Martin Reynolds. But the biggest blow is the departure of his policy chief Munira Mirza, who cited Johnson’s unfounded smears against Keir Starmer in a punchy resignation letter. 

It’s true, of course, that the Prime Minister always planned to remove some officials as part of his plan to reshape Downing Street to meet the challenge of 21st-century governance/to desperately cling onto his job (delete according to taste). It’s tempting, therefore, to see these exits solely as theatre. And that is broadly true with the departures of Doyle, Rosenfield and Reynolds. But it is not true of Munira Mirza – in many ways the Prime Minister’s most irreplaceable aide, who has been with him since his City Hall days. This morning, Elena Narozanski became the first, but possibly not the last, official in the policy unit to resign following Mirza’s exit. 

You don’t have to take Mirza’s expressed reasons for resigning as gospel – though, equally, it’s possible to overdose on cynicism! – to see it as devastating for the Prime Minister. In addition to being a genuine personal blow to Johnson, it has destroyed any hope of presenting the departures of Doyle, Rosenfield and Reynolds as anything other than a panicked Prime Minister seeking to cling to power. It also means that Downing Street’s reorganisation will take place during a cost-of-living crisis and while Johnson’s prospects for survival are far from certain.  

One problem whenever a Prime Minister is on their last legs is that the quality of the people they can hire falls, while the ability of those recruits to enforce the PM’s will is weakened because no one in either the government or Whitehall fears Downing Street. As interest rates go up and inflation continues to bite, Boris Johnson goes into a critical six months for his government and the country with a Downing Street operation in disarray: and with no certainty that he can recruit and retain staffers able to turn either his administration or the country around. 

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