Downing Street comms chief appointed as Prime Minister's chief of staff

Downing Street director of comms Lee Cain is in advanced discussions to become Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, it has emerged.

Lee Cain is tipped to become Boris Johnson's chief of staff (Pic credit: Paul Grover/Shutterstock)

His promotion to the role of the Prime Minister’s ‘fixer’ is part of shake-up of Johnson’s Downing Street operation, The Times newspaper reported.

It would put Cain on the same level of seniority as Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s chief adviser, and Lord Lister, and is said to be a part of a plan to limit access to the Prime Minister to these three advisers alone.


Cain’s latest appointment is said to have frustrated senior Conservatives, who wanted somebody with more experience in the role.

The Telegraph’s politics live editor tweeted this morning:

And former Conservative back bencher Nick de Bois, who opposed Brexit, tweeted:

Controversial comms figure

Cain has been a controversial figure as Number 10’s comms chief, since he was appointed to the role following the election of Johnson as leader of the Conservative Party in 2019.

Cain ordered ministerial boycotts of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, since lifted, and of ITV’s Good Morning Britain, which is still in effect.

No minister has appeared on BBC Two’s Newsnight programme since last year.

In February, he sparked a collective walk-out by journalists after they attended a Government briefing on Brexit in Downing Street and half of them, including writers for The Mirror and The Independent, were asked to leave before it started.

But only a month later, as the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the UK, Cain called a truce with media, telling Lobby journalists “the slate is wiped clean” and pledging to deal with all of them equally.

The truce did not last long, however, and, as the pandemic took hold, the Government was criticised for selectively briefing certain media outlets, prompting an eventual move to daily televised press briefings about the spread of the virus.

The rise and rise of Cain

Cain’s appointment as chief of staff, if confirmed, marks his continued rise to the highest levels of power as an unelected official.

Like many of his predecessors as Downing Street comms chief, he is a former journalist – but, unlike them, had just 10 years’ experience under his belt, as a local and national reporter, when appointed.

His most notable role as a journalist was dressing up as a chicken and turning up at campaign rallies held by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

After working for Cummings as head of broadcast for the Vote Leave campaign, Cain was a special adviser to Johnson while he was Foreign Secretary before being appointed as director of comms.

Former colleagues and Number 10 advisers said his appointment as comms chief was due to his earlier work for Vote Leave.

But a former journalist colleague of Cain’s revealed to PRWeek earlier this year: “The only time he ever mentioned politics to me was just before the Brexit campaign. He told me: ‘I just want to get into politics. I’ve applied for two jobs and I’ve got one of them. I’ve applied for head of broadcast for ‘Remain’ and head of broadcast for ‘Leave’. If this ever comes out I’ll be in a lot of trouble…’”

It is unclear at this stage who will take over as director of communications at No. 10 following Cain's departure.

Last month, senior broadcast journalist Allegra Stratton was appointed to lead No.10’s new White House-style daily televised press briefings, which will begin this month.

Downing Street’s comms team did not respond to a request for comment on Cain’s appointment or his successor.

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