The most powerful PM partner in history? Boris’s fiancee Carrie Symonds ‘isn’t just an average’ companion and ‘gets herself involved’ in issues from badger culls to junk food ads
- Boris Johnson’s fiancee, 32, has been thrown once again into the limelight
- She has been accused of playing a role in blocking Lee Cain’s promotion
- Former Tory press chief is a keen environmental and health campaigner
Some have had their own careers, some have been stay at home-parents; some have been political and others non-political.
But few if any prime ministerial spouses have been so openly politically active and apparently powerful as Carrie Symonds.
Boris Johnson’s fiancee, 32, has been thrown once again into the limelight after being accused of playing a central role in having Lee Cain’s promotion to chief of staff blocked, leading to his shock decision last night to quit Downing Street.
The departure was the culmination of a bitter power struggle inside Mr Johnson’s top team, with rival factions battling for supremacy even as the pandemic death toll topped 50,000 and the economy threatens to implode.
Mr Johnson’s long-term adviser Dominic Cummings does not want the job himself, but had pushed for his ally – the current director of communications – to be appointed.
This prompted warnings from the PM’s fiancée – herself a former Conservative Party head of media – that it would be ‘a mistake’ given how the campaign against the pandemic had gone so far.
She is said to have complained that the No10 operation was being run in an ‘uncollegiate’ way and the PM was not getting ‘good advice’.
Her role in the power drama has raised eyebrows, as previous partners of the prime minister of the day have tended to take a backseat, offering private advice only and not being seen to get too involved.
But Ms Symonds, who gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son called Wilfred, in April, has remained prominent and campaigned on issues including climate change and healthy eating.
Tim Montgomerie, a former Tory spad and ex-editor of the Conservative Home website, told Sky today: ‘Anyone who is in a marriage or a relationship knows that the person you spend so much time with is an incredibly important influence.
‘Carrie Symonds isn’t just an average partner, Boris Johnson met her through her work in the Conservative Party, she was head of communications for the Conservative Party, she is a big environmental campaigner. She knows very well a lot of the personalities in the Conservative Party.
Boris Johnson’s fiancee, 32, has been thrown once again into the limelight after being accused of playing a central role in the departure of Lee Cain
Mr Cain quit as director of communications last night after his promotion to chief of staff was blocked.
Ms Symonds (pictured with Mr Johnson clapping for the NHS earlier this year) is said to have complained that the No10 operation was being run in an ‘uncollegiate’ way and the PM was not getting ‘good advice’
Mr Johnson’s long-term adviser Dominic Cummings (pictured today) does not want the job himself, but had pushed for his ally – the current director of communications – to be appointed
‘So it would be very odd really if she didn’t comment or get herself involved in some of these issues.
‘Of course it has to be carefully done and she shouldn’t undermine people without good reason or interfere without good reason.
‘But on this occasion in standing up for diversity of thinking, different personalities, some grown-ups in Downing Street I think she has done the country and the party and the Government a service.’
Philip May, the investment banker husband of Mr Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, was an active Conservative Party member but kept a very low profile while his wife led the country.
He was involved in a public row with several of her aides over a Brexit deal.
Before Mrs May, David Cameron’s wife Samantha ran her own business while he was prime minister – and Like Ms Symonds had a child during his term in office.
Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah ran a charity and Cherie Blair was a high-ranking barrister while Tony Blair led the nation.
Ms Symonds has been by the PM’s side since she joined his staff in Downing Street on his arrival in July 2019. She worked for the Tory party from 2009, including as its head of press, before hitting the headlines when her affair with Mr Johnson came to light in September 2018.
That revelation came during Mr Johnson’s second marriage to Marina Wheeler, the mother of four of his children, and the couple later dicorced.
During Ms Symonds and Mr Johnson’s relationship, she has been credited with attempts to transform his public image, with the PM swapping his previously unruly, slap-dash outfits to a noticeably more polished look, with neatly cropped hair and a significantly slimmer waistline last year.
However he piled the weight back on when he entered No10 and cited his coronavirus scare in the spring as having a significant impact on his attitude to obesity.
Boris Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds stood outside Number 10 as her partner gave his first speech in Downing Street after the election victory in July 2019
Last night Tory MPs blasted the Government’s ‘nanny state’ plan to ban online junk food adverts as they argued ‘people should assume responsibility for their own health’.
Conservative backbenchers said the proposals were ‘incoherent’ because they come just a matter of weeks after ministers were encouraging people to eat fast food through the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Meanwhile, critics of the policy said it had been ‘designed by fanatics’ and it will have ‘no impact on obesity’ as they called for a U-turn.
Many at Westminster believe Ms Symond has also played a big role in pushing the notoriously libertarian PM towards tougher intervention.
Mr Johnson has embarked on a major health drive since his coronavirus escape, running almost daily and walking their dog Dilyn.
He has bluntly admitted to being ‘too fat’ and said exercising Dilyn had helped him lose ‘at least a stone’.
A senior Tory MP said: ‘Carrie has a lot of power in the current circumstances that people underestimate.’
They suggested that she had been helping push the obesity agenda behind the scenes.
They said: ‘Boris was clearly overweight and that clearly gave a problem when he got Covid. He has been quite open about it.’
Ms Symonds has previously been dubbed the ‘Duchess of Downing Street’, a reference to the similarity of her fashion to Kate Middleton, as well as a nod to her growing power behind the scenes at Number 10.
A passionate conservationist, she had a direct impact on government policy after a badger cull in Derbyshire was called off, a move that saved thousands of the animals.
Badgers are culled across Europe over fears they are spreading bovine tuberculosis among cattle – but a licence for a cull across Derbyshire was refused after a ‘direct intervention from the Prime Minister’, according to the chief executive of the Badger Trust. It came after the government already granted licenses for thousands of badgers to be culled all over the country.
In May the High Court rejected farmers’ claims that Boris Johnson decided to ban the badger cull because of Carrie Symonds as it refused an attempt to overturn the decision.
Lawyers representing the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said the September 2019 ban was ‘irrational’ and the real reason for the decision was because Prime Minister Boris Johnson took a ‘personal interest’.
They told Mrs Justice Andrews that lobbying by Badger Trust chief executive Dominic Dyer included meeting Mr Johnson’s partner, Ms Symonds, in Downing Street.
Environment Secretary George Eustice disputed the claims, denied that the decision was irrational and said the challenge should be dismissed.
Badgers had previously been culled in an attempt to stop them spreading bovine tuberculosis (TB) but the Government called a halt to the practice following campaigning by anti-animal cruelty activists and said it would vaccinate them instead.
Mrs Justice Andrews, who analysed arguments at a High Court hearing over Skype in April, today ruled in his favour. She dismissed the NFU challenge and concluded that the decision was not irrational.
Ms Symonds has also hired a former ITN communications chief Sarah Vaughan-Brown, 45, as her personal adviser. Insiders say Ms Vaughan-Brown, who also handled PR for the Trinity Mirror newspaper group in the past, will be helping Ms Symonds with her growing charity interests.
Carrie Symonds on a night out – her image has considerably changed since she started publicly dating Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Ms Symonds has been credited with transforming his public image, with the PM swapping his previously unruly, slap-dash outfits to a noticeably more polished look, with neatly cropped hair and a significantly slimmer waistline
Her association with Mr Johnson dates back to 2012, when Ms Symonds worked on the now-PM’s successful second London mayoral campaign.
Ms Symonds has ties to several other Tory figures, campaigning for Zac Goldsmith during the General Election and she is also thought to be a friend of ex-Chancellor Sajid Javid.
She joined the Tory party media machine in 2009, first as a press adviser, then head of broadcast at Conservative campaign headquarters ahead of the 2015 general election, before becoming communications chief in 2017.
However, she was forced to quit just months after being accused of abusing her expenses to the tune of thousands of pounds.
Ms Symonds was asked to leave her £80,000-a-year after party chiefs said her performance was poor, having previously challenged her over taxi expenses.
She declined to comment on the claims, which a close friend dismissed as nonsense and a bid to smear her by opponents of Brexit.
Ms Symonds was the product of an affair between her father, Matthew, a founder of the Independent, and of newspaper lawyer Josephine McAfee while they were both were married to other people.
Her mother raised her in a three-bed townhouse in East Sheen, South West London, while her father provided financial assistance, though he is not thought to have played a big role in his life.
She was educated at the £20,000-a-year Godolphin and Latymer School in Hammersmith, west London, which counts Nigella Lawson as a former pupil.
She then went on to study theatre studies and history of art, graduating with a first from Warwick University.
Her degree led her to consider a career as an actress, appearing in amateur shows and even trying for a part in Atonement, the 2007 film starring Keira Knightley.
After that proved unsuccessful, she turned her attention to politics, joining the Conservatives as a press officer.
This led to her working with Mr Goldsmith and on her future husband Mr Johnson’s campaigns.
She also became a special adviser to John Whittingdale at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport before working for future chancellor Sajid Javid.
In June 2017, at the age of 29, that she was made the Tory communications chief, before leaving her post, with her subsequent relationship with Mr Johnson elevating her publicly profile even higher.
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