Boris Johnson has lost his chief spin doctor after a power struggle in Downing Street.
Until now, the cracks that have been spreading through Team Johnson in the wake of the coronavirus crisis have been largely kept under wraps. This latest row has laid bare the tensions at the heart of Mr Johnson’s fledgling administration.
Here are some of the key questions around the turmoil in Number 10.
What has happened?
Lee Cain is quitting the Number 10 operation, where he had been Mr Johnson’s director of communications, although he will remain in post until the end of the year.
He had been offered a promotion to become the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, but a leak of that news prompted a backlash within the Tory ranks – reportedly including Mr Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds – which effectively forced Mr Cain out.
Why is Lee Cain controversial?
Along with Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s senior adviser, Mr Cain was one of the key players in the Vote Leave campaign for Brexit who were brought into Government by the Prime Minister.
He fought a divisive battle with the press which culminated in a walkout by senior members of the lobby – the reporters covering Westminster – after journalists from some outlets were banned from a briefing on UK-EU trade talks.
The coronavirus crisis has also seen a series of communications missteps, with information leaked out or selectively briefed before being formally announced.
What about other Downing Street figures?
Mr Cummings was reportedly considering his position after Mr Cain quit.
The position of Lord Frost, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, was also reported to be uncertain, although he too appears to be staying.
Mr Cummings is at “the beginning of the end” of his time in Downing Street, sources said on Thursday night.
The Prime Minister’s chief adviser signalled he could be gone by Christmas as he said his plan had always been to make himself “largely redundant” by the end of the year.
Mr Cummings was left hugely weakened after Mr Johnson effectively called his bluff over the resignation of Mr Cain as director of communications.
Mr Cummings had allegedly threatened to walk out immediately if Mr Cain was allowed to go, and had said up to half a dozen staff would follow him, but he failed to carry out the threat leaving him diminished after the bruising civil war.
Asked about rumours he would be gone by Christmas, Mr Cummings told the BBC: “My position hasn’t changed since my January blog,” when he wrote that he intended to make improvements to the Downing Street operation that would mean he was no longer needed by the end of 2020.
One of the triggers for the turmoil has been the appointment of Allegra Stratton to front the televised news conferences that Number 10 is planning. She is thought to have wanted direct access to the Prime Minister rather than reporting to Mr Cain in order to do her job more effectively.
There is no fixed date yet for the start of those briefings, but Mr Johnson hopes they will help improve the Government’s public image.
The post-Brexit trade talks are entering their end game, with a resolution needed shortly if a deal is to be implemented by the time transition arrangements expire at the end of the year, when the UK leaves the single market and customs union.
The weakened position of the Vote Leave contingent within Number 10 could make it easier for Mr Johnson to compromise, although he has repeatedly insisted he is prepared to walk away without a deal.