Michael Gove has been accused of orchestrating the removal of the Prime Minister’s chief adviser on the Union in an attempt to retain his position at the heart of Government.
Multiple Whitehall sources told this newspaper that Mr Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, had masterminded Oliver Lewis’s dramatic departure from Downing Street on Friday after becoming concerned he was being sidelined by the Prime Minister.
Mr Lewis, a close ally of Dominic Cummings, resigned from his job as head of Number 10’s Union Unit after just two weeks in the post, following a bitter power struggle with Mr Gove’s supporters that made his position “untenable”, sources claimed.
It is alleged that Carrie Symonds, the Prime Minister’s fiancee, and Henry Newman, another Downing Street adviser, accused Mr Lewis of briefing newspapers that Mr Gove’s influence was waning because had lost his responsibility for managing relations with the EU to Lord Frost.
Both deny that claim, but it is understood that Mr Johnson did summon Mr Lewis on Thursday to rebuke him for speaking to journalists, something Mr Lewis denies.
Mr Gove’s brief was reduced this week to Union issues and civil service reform after Lord Frost, the architect of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, was appointed as a Cabinet minister for EU matters.
It came after Mr Lewis replaced Luke Graham, a Gove supporter and former Tory MP, as head of the Union Unit a fortnight ago. Sources said Mr Gove believed Mr Lewis was also trying to remove responsibility for the Government’s Union strategy from his brief, weakening his role in government.
“The people implementing the policy were moving from the Cabinet Office [Mr Gove’s department] to Number 10,” a source said.
“You’ve got Henry Newman trying to wrest control back. Michael appeared to have his wings clipped a bit by Frost’s movement in, and he appeared to have his wings clipped again two weeks ago with Oliver taking over.”
A different Whitehall source said Mr Gove had disagreed with the new Union strategy designed by Mr Lewis, and had used Mr Newman in Downing Street to block it by forcing his resignation.
“If you have differing views from Henry Newman and others who are going into Number 10, who are of the same Union view as Michael Gove, you have then got a clash because for Oliver to do his job effectively, he would need to almost overrule Michael,” the source said..
“If you have got lots of Goveites running Number 10, that becomes more difficult.”
Other sources painted the dispute as a battle between Mr Gove, Ms Symonds and Mr Newman in one camp, and supporters of Mr Cummings in another. “Some of the stuff about Carrie was totally unfair and felt quite sexist to me,” a Whitehall source said.
Mr Newman is a close friend of the Prime Minister’s fiancee, and was appointed to Downing Street this week alongside Baroness Finn, Mr Gove’s former girlfriend and another friend of Ms Symonds.
Mr Lewis is a close ally of Dominic Cummings, having worked with him at the Vote Leave campaign.
Remaining officials who supported Mr Cummings in Government are now understood to be considering their position in expectation that they “could be next”, after Mr Lewis’s resignation and and the departure of Mr Cummings and Lee Cain, Mr Johnson’s former director of communications, who were forced out at the end of last year.
A source close to Mr Gove strongly denied that he had any hand in Mr Lewis’s departure, insisting that he was “shocked” when he heard the news that the advisor had resigned and had not previously disagreed with him over Union policy.
“That is categorically untrue. Michael has not done that at all,” the source said. “They were working well together.”
A Downing Street source said: “Michael is an absolutely integral part of the Government and one of the PM’s most trusted ministers.”
Asked whether Mr Gove had orchestrated the removal of Mr Lewis, the source replied: “I don’t recognise that description of the situation.”
Allies of Ms Symonds said she does not attend Government meetings or receive internal Government emails, and pointed out that it is customary for a Prime Minister’s spouse to offer informal advice.