One of Boris Johnson’s closest aides, director of communications Lee Cain, has resigned amid reports of internal tensions in Downing Street.
He will leave next month, despite being offered a promotion to chief of staff.
His departure prompted speculation about the future of the PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings, but the BBC was told he would stay for now.
Mr Cain has been at the PM’s side since he was a press officer for the Vote Leave campaign under Mr Cummings.
Many will not have heard of him before the story broke, but his resignation comes at a time when the government is facing big decisions over its tackling of coronavirus and the future of post-Brexit trade with the EU.
After a number of rows and U-turns within government in recent months, No 10 will see communications as key in connecting with the country and trying to gain support for its decisions.
The news that Mr Cain – who worked with Mr Cummings and the PM in the Vote Leave campaign to get Britain out of the EU – could become Mr Johnson’s chief of staff had led to consternation among some MPs and ministers, said BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.
One Tory source even suggested that Mr Johnson’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds – a former head of communications for the Conservatives – had misgivings about that plan.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told LBC Radio: “This is pathetic. I think millions of people will be waking up this morning, scratching their heads, saying what on earth is going on?
“We’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re all worried about our health and our families, we’re all worried about our jobs, and this lot are squabbling behind the door of No 10. Pull yourselves together, focus on the job in hand.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said suppressing the spread of this virus was the “focus of everyone” in Downing Street, and they were “working very hard at it”.