Lee Cain: who is the former Vote Leave campaigner once tipped to become Boris Johnson’s new chief of staff - and why has he now resigned?

Cain is seen as an ally of Dominic Cummings but will leave Downing Street next month

In another Downing Street twist, Lee Cain - a close aide of Boris Johnson who was in line for promotion to chief of staff - has resigned from his position as director of communications.

Cain will leave his post at the end of the year amid widespread speculation over his future last night, which saw Johnson's fiancee Carrie Symonds seemingly oppose the move to give him more responsibility at No.10.

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The PM had reportedly offered Cain the role of chief of staff over the weekend as he looked to ensure the country’s split from Europe remained a key focus for his administration, as the UK nears the end of the Brexit transition period.

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Former tabloid journalist turned Vote Leave communications staffer, Cain, had an established relationship with Johnson and special adviser Dominic Cummings, with the pair working side-by-side on the campaign which saw Britain leave the European Union.

But just as it seemed Cain was set to take the top office job, despite differing in-house opinions, he tendered his resignation to leave No.10 altogether.

Who is Lee Cain?

Lee Cain has been tipped to become the new Downing Street chief of staff amid competing views from those close to Boris Johnson. (Picture: Getty Images)Lee Cain has been tipped to become the new Downing Street chief of staff amid competing views from those close to Boris Johnson. (Picture: Getty Images)
Lee Cain has been tipped to become the new Downing Street chief of staff amid competing views from those close to Boris Johnson. (Picture: Getty Images)

Before he began making waves in Downing Street, Cain cut his teeth as a reporter on local newspapers in Gloucestershire before working on national tabloids The Sun and the Daily Mirror.

While in post at the Mirror, he once donned a chicken suit to chase down Conservative politicians, including David Cameron, in the lead up to the 2010 election.

He moved on to work on television show This Morning and then had a stint in public relations before beginning his political communications career in 2016.

Cain became head of broadcast of the Vote Leave campaign, where he worked closely with Cummings, in addition to his position at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

He gained experience working under Andrea Leadsom, Michael Gove and later Theresa May before joining Johnson when the now-PM was Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

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Earning the trust of Johnson, Cain played an instrumental role in the ‘Back Boris’ campaign which saw the former Mayor of London become leader of the Conservative Party.

What’s his link with Cummings?

The pair worked together on the Vote Leave campaign which resulted in the UK withdrawing its membership from the European Union.

The UK left the EU on 31st January when it began an 11-month transition period to allow for negotiations between the EU and UK over their future relationship.

That period is set to end on 1st January 2021.

Cain has risen through the ranks in the political comms departments of No.10 over the past three years and had been reportedly seen as an ally to special adviser Cummings rather than a threat.

Cain's promotion was touted to have come about to allow Cummings, who currently oversees those duties, to withdraw from day-to-day running of Downing Street and focus on "key policy objectives, such as Whitehall reform," states the Guardian.

What does the chief of staff at No.10 do?

The Downing Street chief of staff is seen as a senior aide to the PM, reporting directly to the UK leader and is the highest-ranked member of the office of No.10.

A non-ministerial position, responsibilities vary from staff structuring to managing the flow of information - broadly leading and coordinating operations across No.10.

The role was created by Tony Blair when he became PM in 1997. Jonathan Powell held the position for 10 years under Blair's leadership.

Who are the other runners and riders for the role?

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A handful of names have been rumoured to be in contention for the post, from former Tory chair Andrew Feldman, who is said to have declined the opportunity, to culture secretary Oliver Dowden.

Other candidates are believed to include political strategist Isaac Levido, former department for exiting the EU minister George Bridges, Johnson's political secretary Ben Gascoigne and policy chief Munira Mirza.

What did Carrie Symonds say?

The move for Cain seemed to stall when the PM’s fiancée Carrie Symonds reportedly opposed the appointment. The reason why remains unclear but what is clear is that there was some wider opposition to Cain being afforded more power inside No.10.

Those who opposed the move believed Johnson needed a broader range of views, advice and experience.

It sparked much debate on Twitter with people using #chiefgate to join the conversation.

Why has Cain now resigned?

In a statement, Cain said: “It has been a privilege to work as an adviser for Mr Johnson for the last three years – being part of a team that helped him win the Tory leadership contest, secure the largest Conservative majority for three decades – and it was an honour to be asked to serve as the prime minister’s chief of staff.

“I would like to thank all the team at No 10 – including the many unsung and incredibly talented civil servants – for their hard work and support during the last 18 months.

“And most of all I would like to thank the prime minister for his loyalty and leadership. I have no doubt that under his premiership the country will deliver on the promises made in the 2019 election campaign and build back better from the coronavirus pandemic.”

Who will succeed him in Downing Street?

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Former political editor of the Daily Mail, James Slack, is now expected to succeed Cain as Downing Street's director of communications. He is currently the PM's official spokesperson.

Who Johnson turns to next to fill the role of chief of staff remains to be seen.