An internal inquiry has been launched into how messages between the Prime Minister and billionaire Sir James Dyson were leaked to journalists.
But Downing Street figures are pointing the finger at Mr Cummings, who quit as the Prime Minister’s senior adviser last year following a behind the scenes power struggle.
The Times, The Telegraph and The Sun all reported comments from an insider naming Mr Cummings. Allies of Mr Cummings have denied he is behind the leak.
The briefing has sparked concern among Tory MPs who believe the situation has the potential to escalate.
They said the briefing against Mr Cummings ‘looks like Number 10’s revenge’ after the Vote Leave maverick’s bombshell appearance in front of MPs last month when he claimed the Department of Health was a ‘smoking ruin’ at the start of the pandemic.
One senior Tory MP told MailOnline: ‘It is a bit like Kennedy’s response to Russian missiles in Cuba, it is not necessarily mutually assured destruction but that could happen.
‘Having said that, quite clearly, Boris has got a lot more to lose than Cummings has and that is the worry.’
Another Conservative MP warned of the potential for the situation to turn into a ‘bunch of school children’ feuding.
The Prime Minister’s Deputy Official Spokesman would not be drawn on the claims at lunchtime as he was grilled by reporters.
He said: ‘We have instructed the Cabinet Office to look into the Dyson leak… obviously I am not going to comment on speculation and of course it is for the Cabinet Office to take that work forward. I am not going to pre-empt it.’
The accusations against Mr Cummings follow persistent rumours of animosity between him and the PM’s partner Carrie Symonds.
Mr Cummings left Number 10 in November after alleged sustained infighting with her allies, and his Vote Leave ally Lee Cain was ousted days earlier following similar reports of disagreements.
Number 10’s plan for daily press conferences fronted by Allegra Stratton were also finally axed this week, months after she was hired to present the briefings that were seen as Mr Cain’s and Mr Cumming’s brainchild.
An internal inquiry has been launched into how messages between the Prime Minister and billionaire Sir James Dyson were leaked to journalists. Number 10 sources have blamed Mr Cummings for the leak
Is Dominic Cummings REALLY the ‘chatty rat’ mole? Finger has previously been pointed at Matt Hancock, Michael Gove and a stream of government advisers
Downing Street has been hunting for the identity of the so-called ‘chatty rat’ who has been leaking sensitive material from the heart of Government for six months.
Dominic Cummings is not the only name in the frame for the source of damning information that raises serious questions about the conduct of the prime minister and his top team.
He was first bounced into announcing November’s four-week lockdown early after the plans emerged in the press.
The ‘rat’ told Saturday morning’s newspapers that a previous day’s meeting of the all-powerful Covid Quad committee had decided to introduce a second national lockdown within days: anti-lockdown hawks in the Government claim that Mr Johnson had intended to spend the weekend studying the most recent and accurate data – and discussing it with the rest of the Cabinet – before deciding whether to extend his regional system of tiered restrictions instead.
It came amid a spike in Covid cases last October that prompted calls for a ‘circuit-break’ shutdown.
Mr Cummings was still in post as Boris Johnson’s chief aide at the time, and suspicion also fell on other arms of the Government machine.
At the time, anti-lockdown hawks believed that pro-lockdown ‘doves’ leaked details of a so-called ‘quad’ meeting of Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Gove and Hancock the previous day to stop the Prime Minister from watering down the shutdown plans.
Mr Johnson sent security experts to the homes of Cabinet ministers including Mr Hancock to examine their personal mobile phones as part of a major leak inquiry.
The Health Secretary has frequently drawn the ire of hawks during the past year, emerging as a key advocate within Government of lengthy lockdowns designed to save lives.
Sources say he has clashed with Sunak and other hawks who would have rather kept the economy open to avoid economic stress.
Mr Hancock has categorically denied any involvement in the leak.
Investigators into the lockdown leak called at Mr Gove’s West London home and demanded to see his mobile phone, before examining his calls, text messages and WhatsApp conversations.
It came as a furious Mr Johnson ordered Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to set up the probe.
Mr Gove and his advisers were happy to hand over their phones because they had ‘nothing to hide’.
Despite repeated requests over the past six months, the results of the probe into the ‘chatty rat’ have never never been revealed.
Mr Newman is a former adviser to Mr Gove and a close friend of the Prime Minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
He was accused by factions within the Vote Leave movement of being the Chatty Rat, with allegations that he partially wiped his phone after the inquiry began.
The claims later turned out to be false and Mr Newman denies being the leaker.
Mr Newman has been both Mr Gove’s right-hand man and a close friend of Ms Symonds for years.
Earlier this year he became a senior advisor in No10, leading to fears that allies of Mr Gove and Ms Symonds were muscling into the PM’s inner circle.
The Civil Service
Suspicion has also been levelled at senior civil servants, with some accused of leaking details of the lobbying scandal to destabilise the Tories and help Labour.
They are also suspected of using leaks to try to ‘sabotage’ the Brexit withdrawal negotiations last year, and to provide advance notice to the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer about Government policies in the pipeline – giving him time to structure his responses.
Tory spy-hunters believe a ‘cell’ of Labour supporters, centred on the Cabinet Office, was activated last year after Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former senior adviser in No 10, declared that a ‘hard rain’ was coming for the Civil Service as part of planned reforms to break up Whitehall’s grip on the establishment.
The bombshell accusations made against Mr Cummings emerged in three different newspapers at the same time late last night.
A Number 10 source told The Times: ‘Dominic is engaged in systematic leaking. We are disappointed about that. We are concerned about messages from private WhatsApp groups which had very limited circulation.
‘The prime minister is saddened about what Dom is doing. It’s undermining the government and the party. It might be that Dominic feels bitter about what’s happened since he left but it’s a great shame. Dyson was trying to do something for the good of the country.’
The leak of the texts to Sir James, in which Mr Johnson promised the entrepreneur he would ‘fix’ a tax issue for Dyson staff working to develop ventilators at the height of the coronavirus crisis last year, was not the first time the PM’s messages have been made public.
Mr Johnson was sent a text message by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a bid to buy Newcastle United ran into difficulties last June.
A Number 10 source told The Sun that Mr Johnson ‘fears Dom was responsible for the text message leaks about James Dyson and Mohammed bin Salman’.
The Telegraph said it is understood Mr Cummings would have had legitimate access to the messages while he worked at Number 10.
‘If you join the dots it looks like it’s coming from Dom,’ a source told the newspaper.
A Whitehall source also claimed to The Telegraph that Mr Cummings may have been responsible for the ‘chatty rat’ leak last year of the PM’s planned November lockdown.
The source said: ‘There is a widespread belief in Whitehall that Dom Cummings may have been responsible for leaking the details from the proposed lockdown.’
Mr Cummings has not responded to the accusations.
But his allies categorically denied that he was behind the leaks and said he had not seen the texts.
Mr Cummings has never been named by journalists as the source of any of the leak-related stories.
Tory MPs fear the accusations made against Mr Cummings could spiral into a damaging back and forth briefing war which could result in ‘mutually assured destruction’.
One MP told MailOnline: ‘With Cummings, it is not in his nature to go quietly and I don’t think he is going quietly.
‘The fact that somebody has leaked out that it was supposedly Cummings, clearly it looks like Number 10’s revenge. The problem that they have got is that Cummings knows a lot more.’
They added: ‘It is a bit like Kennedy’s response to Russian missiles in Cuba, it is not necessarily mutually assured destruction but that could happen.
‘Having said that, quite clearly, Boris has got a lot more to lose than Cummings has and that is the worry.’
Another Tory MP said: ‘When you have a bunch of school children don’t they do this sort of thing?’
Mr Cummings, the former Vote Leave mastermind, worked closely with Mr Johnson on the Brexit campaign and was a major figure in Number 10 after the Prime Minister took office.
Mr Johnson stood by him after Mr Cummings found himself in the eye of a media storm after driving his family to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.
But Mr Cummings was subsequently ousted from Downing Street amid the fallout from an internal power struggle with the Prime Minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
Number 10 had initially said there would not be a probe into how the exchange with Sir James was made public, but a change of course was announced on Thursday as it said an internal inquiry will be led by the Cabinet Office.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman told a Westminster briefing: ‘I can confirm that, yes, we have instructed the Cabinet Office to look into this.
‘The position has changed from yesterday – it was correct at the time yesterday but, as usual, we keep things under review and we have now decided to undertake this internal inquiry.
‘As you would expect, we continually look at this and the position we decided today is that we want to make sure we have this internal inquiry into that.’
The spokesman confirmed the inquiry will examine the source of leaks of Mr Johnson’s private communication ‘as related to this issue of Dyson’.
The BBC reported that the messages between Mr Johnson and Sir James were exchanged in March last year after the businessman was unable to get the assurances he was seeking from the Treasury.
Sir James, who has changed his main address in business filings to the UK from Singapore, wrote to the Treasury requesting that his staff would not have to pay additional tax if they came to the UK to work on the ventilator project.
But when he failed to receive a reply, Sir James reportedly took up the matter directly with the Prime Minister.
A No 10 source told the Sun Mr Johnson ‘fears Dom was responsible for the text message leaks about James Dyson and Mohammed bin Salman’
He said in a text that the firm was ready but that ‘sadly’ it seemed no-one wanted them to proceed, to which Mr Johnson replied: ‘I will fix it tomo! We need you. It looks fantastic.’
The Prime Minister then texted him again saying: ‘(Chancellor) Rishi (Sunak) says it is fixed!! We need you here.’
Two weeks later, Mr Sunak told the Commons Treasury Committee that the tax status of people who came to the UK to provide specific help during the pandemic would not be affected.
Downing Street has said it will publish correspondence between Mr Johnson and Sir James ‘shortly’, after the Prime Minister told the Commons he was ‘happy to share all the details’ of the exchanges.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister said in the House he’s happy to share all the details with the House, as he shared them with his officials.
‘That’s what we’re working on, we’re pulling together that information, it will be published shortly.’
Meanwhile, the spokesman did not deny reports that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case advised Mr Johnson to change his phone number over concerns about the ease with which lobbyists and business leaders were able to contact him.
The spokesman told Westminster reporters: ‘We don’t get into details of the advice provided between a Cabinet Secretary and a Prime Minister, and so I’m not going to do that in this instance.’
Digital and Culture Minister Caroline Dinenage today insisted that members of the government do not hand out their mobile phone numbers ‘willy nilly’.
Asked to name who has access to her phone number, she told Sky News: ‘I can’t off the top of my head. I would have to look at my mobile phone.
The source suggested the Prime Minister was ‘saddened’ and Mr Cummings was ‘bitter’ after his exit from No 10. They are pictured together in 2019
‘It is not something one tends to give out willy nilly but, you know, we do, as ministers we meet business people, in my line of work clearly I meet lots of people in the digital world.
‘I am minister for digital and culture so those are the two areas where I would meet an awful lot of people.
‘But also, you know, charities, trade unions, other bodies. So we meet people all of the time.’
Ms Dinenage said there are ‘very clear rules about what happens if you do ever get approached’.
She added: ‘You pass it on to your private office and everything goes through the normal civil service channels. We don’t do business via Whatsapp or text message.’
DAN WOOTTON: Whoever is the Chatty Rat, Carrie and Cummings need to bury the hatchet and get behind Boris for the sake of the country
United, it felt like nothing could topple them – the future of the UK was in exciting hands.
The rulebook was shredded. Anything could happen! What a ride…
Carrie Symonds (left, with Boris Johnson) and Dominic Cummings need to bury the hatchet, writes Dan Wootton
Dom, the Westminster-destroying outsider who would take no prisoners in his mission to turn ‘the system’ – from the terrified BBC to the institutionalised civil service – upside down and inside out.
Boris, the affable public face, who could win support for his steely-eyed political partner’s revolutionary agenda.
Perhaps it was that power that so threatened Boris’ real-life partner Carrie Symonds, who hated Dom’s sheer force of personality and his ability to ruffle feathers and control her fiancé.
After all, as a former Tory spin doctor herself, why the heck did Boris need this ‘madman’ taking the reins?
Especially after the palaver of THAT trip Barnard Castle at the height of the pandemic where Boris expended what little political capital he had left at the time to save Dom’s job, at what felt like any cost.
But Dom and Boris divided, as they are now, is a political horror story. Toxic and immature, they seem to be trying to tear each other apart. It’s a battle that does neither side any good.
According to seemingly coordinated front page stories in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Sun today, Boris has only one suspect about who is responsible for ‘systematic leaking’ about him: It’s Dom!
A No10 source told The Sun: ‘The Prime Minister thinks Dominic Cummings is responsible for a series of damaging leaks about his personal communications.
‘He is deeply disappointed and saddened by what he thinks his former adviser has been doing, and believes he is attempting to undermine the Government and the Conservative Party.’
MailOnline columnist Dan Wootton
Cummings totally denies being the so-called Chatty Rat, incidentally.
You would have hoped a global pandemic, never-ending lockdowns and an economic catastrophe would be enough to focus minds and stop this sort of carry on.
However, in politics, personal rivalries and bitterness trumps everything.
The leaks in questions have not in themselves caused Boris too much harm yet.
This week text messages between Sir James Dyson and the PM were released, showing Boris pledged Dyson would not be forced to pay extra taxes if they helped deliver ventilators at the height of the pandemic.
In one message, Boris wrote: ‘James, I am first lord of the Treasury and you take it that we are backing you to do what you need.’
Ironically, far from being damaging to Boris, it showed him as a highly engaged, hands-on PM prepared to do whatever it took to save British lives. That’s something to celebrate in my books.
And I don’t think the public see it as anything close to a scandal, despite Keir Starmer’s opportunistic attempts to whip up a storm.
So should Dominic Cummings, if the rumours are to be believed, be leaking? Obviously Number 10 Downing Street think not and have launched a formal investigation.
They wish Dom would celebrate the enduring popularity of Boris – the man he made PM – and the supreme success of the UK’s vaccine rollout, which owes its genesis to Brexit.
Former ITV News star Allegra Stratton gave up her very promising gig running the image of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to launch White House-style daily briefings for Boris, at the personal request of the PM, only to be discarded without a second thought this week
But Dom has reason to be furious, given his brutal departure from Government after falling out with Carrie, despite the fact he was central to delivering Boris his Brexit and red wall victories.
By all accounts, Dom was rude, difficult to deal with and disrespectful while in power. Cabinet ministers, MPs, advisers and long-time public servants despised him.
But that’s why I adored the bloke and think Boris should have done far more to keep him peeing inside the tent, rather than all over it from the outside as he is now accused of doing.
When Dom was running the Government, he brought out the best of Boris.
After years of unfulfilled promises, the Tories were finally going to crack down on the dominance of the outwardly left-wing BBC, for example. Without him, it’s back to business as usual – moderate thinking and a distinct lack of ambition.
This week text messages between Sir James Dyson and the PM were released, showing Boris pledged Dyson would not be forced to pay extra taxes if they helped deliver ventilators at the height of the pandemic
Boris also has to take some responsibility about the way he treats people.
Former ITV News star Allegra Stratton gave up her very promising gig running the image of Chancellor Rishi Sunak to launch White House-style daily briefings for Boris, at the personal request of the PM, only to be discarded without a second thought this week.
It’s politically unwise to treat staff aware of the good, the bad and the ugly inside Government in such a cavalier manner.
Should we care about any of this nonsense political infighting? The answer is obvious: Of course not.
The public is rightly concerned about what matters post-covid; jobs, education, health, housing and the future of the Union.
Navel-gazing by politicians and their advisers who should know better is not high on the agenda.
But, believe me, this story matters because it’s these sorts of long-running behind-the-scenes bitch-fights that consume huge attention of the people who are entrusted with making some of the biggest political decisions since World War Two.
Transformation to a post-Covid world is an even bigger feat to tackle than Brexit.
So this behaviour is deplorable and pathetic – and all parties need to immediately snap out of it to concentrate on what matters.
Carrie Symonds should immediately invite Dominic Cummings and his wife around for a private dinner in the Prime Ministerial flat at Number 11 Downing Street.
She was rightly furious about alleged leaks by Cummings’ allies last year describing her as ‘Princess Nut Nuts’ but there’s something much more important at stake now.
Carrie and Dom can have it out and then agree a respectful path forward that works for both sides.
Dominic should be offered roles that tap into his transformational ability and passion for levelling up Britain and making us a science and technology hub.
Then they should all shut the hell up forever more about their petty differences and put the interests of the United Kingdom before their egos.