Dominic Cummings, the controversial brains behind the 2016 campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, on Friday stepped down as a top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Cummings was due to leave at the end of the year, reports said, but he was seen walking out of Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office on Friday carrying a cardboard box.
A government source confirmed he would no longer be officially employed from “mid-December”.
Cummings: The Brains Behind ‘Vote Leave’
The 48-year-old was the brains behind the campaign that saw Britain narrowly vote in 2016 to leave the European Union.
He was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a TV dramatisation of the seismic referendum which divided the nation and has led to years of crippling political infighting.
His aggressive campaigning tactics, including an infamous Brexit campaign bus emblazoned with a questionable promise of funding for healthcare, made him a hate figure for Brexit opponents.
Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron called him a “career psychopath”, and he was unpopular with many MPs from the ruling party and even staunch Brexiteers.
– Accused of Hypocrisy –
Cummings caused outrage earlier this year for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules that he helped to draft, making a cross-country dash while suffering from Covid-19 symptoms and after his wife had contracted the virus.
He refused to resign, and Johnson refused to sack him, despite ridicule and derision at his claim he drove because he needed to check his eyesight.
Cummings’ electoral successes were partly built on tapping into widespread frustrations with the political classes, and his own disdain for political journalists and the wider media.
But for a man claiming to be more in touch with the public, he misjudged the mood badly by defending his 250-mile (400-kilometre) coronavirus trip.
Johnson hired Cummings after he became prime minister in July 2019, when the government was bogged down in its attempts to leave the European Union and parliament was unable to agree on a divorce deal.
He hoped Cummings’ reputation for unconventional and bold action would help break the deadlock — and the move paid off spectacularly.
Johnson called a snap election in December and secured an 80-seat parliamentary majority, setting the seal on Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Cummings’ departure comes before the end of an 11-month transition period, and the real start of the country’s post-Brexit future.
– ‘Weirdos and Misfits’ –
Johnson entrusted Cummings with his ambitious big-spending plans to modernise the economy and state, giving him unprecedented powers as an aide.
But that agenda has been overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak.
Cummings famously sent out a call for “weirdos and misfits” to join his policy unit, driven by science geeks and “artists” as a direct challenge to civil service control.
His dress sense — more Silicon Valley than Westminster — earned him the title of the world’s worst-dressed man from GQ Magazine, which said he looked like “an unlicensed cab driver”.
Oxford University-educated Cummings, the son of an oil-rig worker and a teacher, began as a government adviser to then-education minister Michael Gove, following a stint working in post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s.
He locked horns immediately with the civil service, which he dubbed the “blob” for resisting his reform plans that one commentator described as “either mad, bad or brilliant”.
But it was during the 2016 referendum campaign that he made his name, although he was contemptuous of many of those campaigning alongside him.
He called leading Tory Brexit supporter David Davis “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad” while anti-EU figurehead Nigel Farage said he “had huge personal enmity with the true believers in Brexit”.