PM´s Union unit chief leaves after less than a fortnight

Dominic Cummings ally Oliver ‘Sonic’ Lewis QUITS his No. 10 job at anti-Scottish independence unit – as more of Carrie Symonds’ friends take key roles

  • Oliver Lewis is reported to have said his position was made ‘untenable’
  • Mr Lewis was a close ally of Dominic Cummings, who is known to call him ‘Sonic’ 
  • Oxford-educated Mr Lewis had worked with Michael Gove on Brexit preparations

Oliver Lewis became a pivotal player in the Downing Street set up, serving as Lord Frost’s deputy on Brexit

Boris Johnson’s main adviser on battling Scottish independence has left the job -less than a fortnight after being made the head of Downing Street’s Union unit.

Oliver Lewis, a veteran of the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, is reported to have said his position was made ‘untenable’ by others within No 10.

A former Vote Leave staffer, Brexit policy adviser Mr Lewis was a close ally of Dominic Cummings – who is known to address him by the nickname ‘Sonic’. 

Mr Lewis had replaced former Scottish MP Luke Graham as head of the unit earlier in February, just months before Holyrood elections where calls for a second independence referendum will be the dominant issue.

A source says Mr Lewis’ departure came because Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds wants Henry Newman running the Union instead, highlighting how tensions are still present within Downing Street over the parting of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, ITV political editor Robert Peston says.   

Following Mr Lewis’s departure, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: ‘Disunity in the Union unit. Or maybe just despair at realising how threadbare the case for it is.’

Oxford-educated Mr Lewis had worked closely with Michael Gove on No Deal preparations, and was inspired by Cummings’ love of science to construct an enormous spreadsheet to model difference scenarios styled on techniques used by NASA. 

Mr Lewis had previously played a pivotal role in Downing Street, serving as Lord Frost’s deputy on Brexit. He served as a Brexit adviser and has been involved in the crunch negotiations between the UK and the EU as the two sides hammered out the terms of a trade deal.  

UK chief trade negotiator David Frost looks on as Boris Johnson signs the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement

The move comes after it was claimed earlier this week that Boris Johnson gave a Cabinet seat to his former Brexit negotiator after he threatened to quit over a Downing Street power struggle.

Lord Frost was given Michael Gove’s job of overseeing the UK’s new relationship with Brussels and ‘driving through changes to maximise the opportunities of Brexit’.

In a massive promotion, he will become a full member of the Cabinet from March 1.

Insiders revealed the move was linked to an internal dispute over other recent key changes in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street inner circle, involving personal and political allies of his partner Carrie Symonds.

They claimed that Lord Frost, 55, had been opposed to Mr Johnson’s decision last week both to appoint Baroness Finn as deputy to new No.10 chief of staff Dan Rosenfield – and to appoint the ex-Gove aide, Henry Newman as her assistant. Both Baroness Finn and Mr Newman are close friends of Miss Symonds.

The pair were in Mr Gove’s team when he famously betrayed Mr Johnson in the 2016 Tory leadership contest.

Baroness Finn and Mr Gove were an item when they left university. She also hosted Miss Symonds’s 30th birthday party in 2018, which was attended by both the Prime Minister and Mr Gove, while Miss Symonds, Baroness Finn and Mr Newman campaigned together in the 2019 election in Wales.

Pictured: Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, October 13, 2020

According to one source, Mr Johnson’s decision to give Lord Frost a Cabinet post was designed in part to stop him leaving Downing Street altogether. An ally of Lord Frost told the Daily Mail: ‘There was a real danger that Lord Frost would walk.

‘The new appointments in Rosenfield’s team dilute the power of those who have been loyal to Boris over many years. Giving Lord Frost a seat in the Cabinet redresses the balance.’ Supporters of Mr Gove last night denied giving Lord Frost a place in his ministerial team was a ‘snub’ to him – and insisted Mr Gove had suggested the idea himself.

Others maintained it is the latest evidence of deep seated tensions in Mr Johnson’s inner team.

They flared last year when Mr Johnson’s controversial senior Downing Street adviser Dominic Cummings and his ally Lee Cain were forced to resign. Mr Cummings and Mr Cain were both close to Lord Frost. But they were heavily criticised by Tory MPs – and critically, had fallen out of favour with Miss Symonds, 32.

Mr Johnson hoped the appointment last month of Treasury civil servant turned banker Mr Rosenfield as his new chief of staff would bring stability to his Downing Street machine. But some officials have claimed Mr Rosenfield has failed to make his mark and that there is a ‘lack of chemistry’ between him and Mr Johnson.

A source says Mr Lewis’ departure came because Mr Johnson’s fiancée Carrie Symonds wants Henry Newman running the Union instead, highlighting how tensions are still present within Downing Street over the parting of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, ITV political editor Robert Peston says 

There have also been reports Mr Rosenfield has clashed with two more Johnson aides in Number 10, Lord Lister and Policy Unit chief Munira Mirza, both of whom – like Lord Frost – worked for Mr Johnson in his London mayoral days. 

Miss Symonds counts Mr Newman as one of her closest confidants in politics. She sought his advice when weighing up whether to challenge the release from jail of John Worboys, the so-called Black Cab rapist, who targeted her when she was a teenager.

When her relationship with Mr Johnson became public in 2018, Mr Newman hit back at her critics, writing on Twitter: ‘Carrie Symonds coverage too often reflects a misogyny that attractive women can’t also be talented.’ 

Baroness Finn was one of around 90 women in Westminster to sign an open letter saying the treatment of the ex-Tory press officer had been ‘appalling’.

The trio have also taken to the streets together to help fellow Conservatives get elected – with her adopted puppy Dilyn.

The promotion of Lord Frost to the Cabinet Office prompted speculation that Scots born Mr Gove may be put in charge of a new Cabinet drive to stop Scotland breaking away from the UK.

The surprise announcement means Lord Frost replaces Mr Gove as chairman of the Cabinet committee tasked with implementing the Brexit divorce agreement. Lord Frost yesterday praised the way Mr Gove had handled talks with the EU, saying ‘I stand on the shoulders of giants.’

Mr Gove said there was ‘no one better to take forward our post-Brexit relationship with the EU.’

Mr Gove will keep his Cabinet table seat and as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster remains above Lord Frost in the Cabinet Office pecking order. 

The SNP’s Westminster deputy leader Kirsten Oswald claimed Mr Johnson’s ‘taxpayer-funded anti-independence campaign is completely falling apart’.

‘As support for independence grows, the Tories are losing advisers like rats on a sinking ship. People in Scotland have a right to determine their own future in a post-pandemic referendum. Boris Johnson knows he cannot deny democracy any more than Donald Trump.

‘The issue at the election in May will be this: who has the right to decide what sort of country we should be after the pandemic – the people of Scotland or Boris Johnson? The only way to ensure Scotland’s future is in Scotland’s hands not Boris Johnson’s is with both votes SNP.’

Downing Street declined to comment on staffing matters.

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