Boris Johnson has announced two new Downing Street appointments following a chaotic week, which saw the departure of five senior officials and public criticism from cabinet ministers.
Steve Barclay, chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has been appointed Johnson’s chief of staff. Guto Harri, a former BBC journalist and communications director during Johnson’s first term at City hall as London Mayor, will become the prime minister’s new director of communications.
The announcement comes as Johnson contends with more letters of no confidence in his position and he battles to shore up backbench support amid a police investigation into possible Covid lawbreaking at the heart of his government.
In a statement, Johnson said: “This week I promised change, so that we can get on with the job the British public elected us to do.
“The changes I’m announcing to my senior team today will improve how No 10 operates, strengthen the role of my cabinet and backbench colleagues, and accelerate our defining mission to level up the country.”
Johnson was forced to start building a new team following the surprise departure of Munira Mirza, head of the Number 10 policy unit and one of his longest standing and closest aides, over a remark he made in parliament about Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and notorious paedophile Jimmy Savile.
Mirza’s exit was followed by the resignation of Dan Rosenfield, chief of staff, director of communications Jack Doyle, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds and Elena Narozanski, another member of the policy unit.
Barclay campaigned to leave the EU and is a close ally of the chancellor Rishi Sunak, who publicly criticised Johnson’s conduct this week. Insiders said Barclay’s appointment was designed to appease Sunak’s frustration with the current Downing Street operation.
One No 10 insider said of Barclay’s appointment: “He’ll be good. Was a whip, knows the party. Very detail oriented.”
A spokesperson for Barclay said he would integrate the new Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office.
A colleague of Harri said he too was a good appointment. “He knows him better than most — although he’s been out of the frame for a long time — and he’s a grown up”.
“But the truth is it’s whether Boris is prepared to lead by looking at himself, accepting responsibility, acting like a PM — and that’s quite an ask. He’s not one for change”, they added.
Will Walden, another former City Hall adviser, was sounded out about the job but declined.
Harri recently resigned from GB News, the right-leaning UK television station, amid a row over his decision to “take the knee”, the anti-racism gesture, during a debate on the show about England football players suffering abuse.
A long-term ally of the prime minister, he has been critical of his former boss in recent years. Speaking to the BBC in 2018, he suggested Johnson was “digging his political grave” after he compared Theresa May’s Brexit deal to a “suicide vest”.
In an apparent reference to Johnson’s private life, he also told the broadcaster: “Unfortunately he is now dragging us into a place where we think that we can joke about suicide vests and that we can be sexually incontinent.
“Somebody needs to take the spade out of his hand or it looks to me like he’s digging his political grave.”
Downing Street said there would be further appointments over the coming days with a “particular focus on improving engagement and liaison with MPs”.
Meanwhile Nick Gibb, a former minister and MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, became the latest MP to reveal he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson on Friday.
Another former minister, Stephen Hammond, said on Saturday that he was “considering very carefully this weekend” whether he still had confidence in Johnson.
The MP told BBC Radio 4’s Week In Westminster he would be “reflecting on the events of the week, reflecting on the fact that my constituents and I and almost all of the country obeyed rules, and there seems to be a group of people who haven’t”.