Questions have been raised about how Boris Johnson’s new chief of staff will balance the role with his responsibilities as a cabinet minister and an MP.
Mr Barclay will take forward reforms to the Downing Street operation, integrating a “new Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office”, Number 10 said.
It is an honour to have been asked by the PM to serve as Chief of Staff for No10 Downing Street alongside my responsibilities in the Cabinet Office.
I am looking forward to working with the PM, Ministers and Parliamentary colleagues on the issues that matter most to our country
— Steve Barclay (@SteveBarclay) February 5, 2022
The shake up comes after senior civil servant Sue Gray’s partial report into Downing Street gatherings during COVID restrictions in 2020 and 2021 criticised “fragmented and complicated” leadership structures.
Combining roles ‘won’t be easy’
But given he is already Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and MP for North East Cambridgeshire, some have queried if he will be able to carry out all three jobs effectively.
Speaking to Sky News, Lord Barwell said Mr Barclay was “diligent, smart, insists on high standards and a nice guy to boot”.
The Conservative peer, who was Number 10 chief of staff under Theresa May, told Trevor Phillips on Sunday it “won’t be easy to combine being chief of staff with a minister and MP”.
Nick Timothy, who was chief of staff alongside Fiona Hill at an earlier point in Mrs May’s time in Downing Street, tweeted: “Barclay is very talented, but not sure having a chief of staff who’s also a minister elsewhere can work.”
Jonathan Powell, who carried out the role under Labour PM Tony Blair, tweeted: “Does he resign as an MP? Or is he answerable to parliament? I can think of no democracy where the chief of staff can also be in the legislature.
“I found being No 10 chief of staff a full-time job. Not sure how it could be combined with representing a constituency. And having to go to answer parliamentary questions about the PM would be tricky.”
‘This is a farce’
Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, who also shadows Mr Barclay, said: “The prime minister has clearly run out of serious people willing to serve under his chaotic and incompetent leadership, so now expects a cabinet minister to be his chief of staff.
“This is a farce. Being No 10 chief of staff is a 24/7 job so if Steve Barclay is taking it on as his third job then Tory MPs and the public can have no confidence that the dysfunction in Downing Street will come to an end.”
No more serious people left willing to serve so a totally incompetent Johnson now expects a Cabinet Minister to be his Chief of Staff, famously a life consuming 24/7 job.
This will be chaos.
I hope you have Union representation Steve. https://t.co/VHL8pBCgOM
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) February 5, 2022
Dr Catherine Haddon, from the Institute for Government, said if Mr Barclay was staying in his cabinet job then his new role is “not a chief of staff”.
“Either he’s a chief of staff and CDL (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster) responsibilities will be neglected. Or he’s de facto deputy PM (despite Raab’s title) and you’re lacking a chief of staff,” she said.
Barclay a ‘great appointment’
The prime minister has said the changes will “improve how No 10 operates, strengthen the role of my cabinet and backbench colleagues, and accelerate our defining mission to level up the country”.
Speaking to Sky News, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said Mr Barclay was a “great appointment”.
“I’ve worked with Steve in government for four years now and he is one of the most honest, most rigorous, most collegiate ministers we have,” he told Phillips.
“I think it is absolutely right that we should try and get the Cabinet Office and Number 10 working more cohesively together.”
Guto Harri, who worked for Mr Johnson when he was London mayor, will become the new director of communications.
Mr Harri joined GB News last year but resigned after a row erupted when he took the knee in support of England football players protesting against racism.
He replaces Jack Doyle, who reportedly told colleagues that recent weeks in Downing Street had “taken a terrible toll on my family life”.