Boris Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds tried to damage the careers of Britain’s top two female civil servants by manoeuvring against them and making offensive remarks.
Miss Symonds urged the Prime Minister to sack a female Whitehall official who refused to sign off a large taxpayers’ bill for her refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, including expensive wallpaper.
And she made a crude remark about another mandarin tipped to be the first female head of the Civil Service – but who lost out when Mr Johnson picked a less experienced male rival.
When Mr Johnson was told he would have to pay the bulk of the cost of Miss Symonds’ designer makeover of their Downing Street apartment, he discussed asking Tory donors to help pay the bill.
It is usual for new occupiers of the Downing Street flat to redecorate given the wear-and-tear it endures, and such an endeavour is unavoidably expensive.
He also discussed the possibility of establishing a ‘blind trust’, a means of investing money on behalf of a public figure to prevent a conflict of interest.
Carrie Symonds, pictured out for a stroll with son Wilf and a friend in Westminster today, tried to damage the careers of Britain’s top two female civil servants and urged the Prime Minister to sack a female Whitehall official
The revelations come after a Tory think-tank called last week for an inquiry into Miss Symonds’ perceived power in No10.
Her supporters deny she meddles in key Government decisions and say she is the victim of ‘sexism’. Downing Street has also recently rubbished claims that Miss Symonds has a central role at No10.
That would appear to be at odds with the disclosure that she targeted Deputy Cabinet Secretary Helen MacNamara and Antonia Romeo, Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice.
Miss Symonds told friends last year she wanted to get Miss MacNamara removed from the Cabinet Office, where she is Director General of Propriety and Ethics.
The post involves curbing sleaze by ministers and tracking down officials who leak information – which brought her into conflict with aides of Michael Gove with close links to Miss Symonds.
Carrie Symonds' increasingly high profile is reflected by her appearance on the front cover of the latest edition of Tatler magazine, which is headlined: ‘Carrie’s Coup
She said she had discussed the idea of ousting Miss MacNamara at length with the Prime Minister – and was confident she had persuaded him to agree to do it. However, this was ultimately unsuccessful, and by her own volition Miss MacNamara leaves the Civil Service this month.
The row over Miss MacNamara flared after she ruled that only a small part of the cost of refurbishing the Downing Street flat could be met from the public purse.
Well-heeled economist shone in US
Antonia Romero, pictured with the Prime Minister during his visit to the US in 2016
Antonia Romeo wears the job of running Whitehall ministries as comfortably as her trademark snakeskin Christian Louboutin heels.
The economist, once tipped as Britain’s first female head of the civil service, thrives in the limelight. When the mother of three became the first woman to serve as the UK’s consul general in New York in 2016, she wasted little time in throwing a girls’ lunch for guests including George Osborne’s then-wife Frances and former Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown.
Balancing easy charm with razor-sharp intellect, the following year saw her host a rooftop party in honour of Vogue chief Anna Wintour. Mrs Romeo’s young son served canapes to guests such as Calvin Klein, Michael Kors and Alexa Chung.
Praised by ministers for championing post-Brexit trade opportunities, Mrs Romeo, 46, hosted events at her residence three or four nights a week. The daughter of academics, she was educated at Westminster School before studying PPE at Brasenose College, Oxford. She then worked at US management consultancy Oliver Wyman, where she met her Italian husband John, before joining the civil service as an economist in 2000. After her success in New York, she became permanent secretary at the newly-created Department for International Trade, where she helped land deals with Japan and Canada. She has since become permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice.
There is no doubt Mrs Romeo has made enemies along the way. Targeted by a hostile briefing campaign last year, she faced claims of bullying but was cleared by an inquiry. Dave Penman of the senior civil servants’ union FDA said the allegations had a ‘whiff of misogyny’.
Mr Johnson has regularly complained privately that Miss Symonds’ spending on the flat, while necessary in principle, is ‘totally out of control’ and that the bill runs to ‘tens and tens of thousands’ of pounds.
The Daily Mail has been told that when informed at a No10 meeting that he would have to pay the lion’s share, he discussed asking Tory donors to pay the rest.
Another plan was for donors to contribute to a blind trust on his behalf. It is understood he discussed the plans with Cabinet Office officials.
In a separate clash, this newspaper has learned that Miss Symonds made a baseless sexual insult against Mrs Romeo, who was tipped to become Britain’s first female Cabinet Secretary last year.
In an angry tirade, she said high-flying diplomat Mrs Romeo was not fit to be head of the Civil Service but would stop at nothing to get the job.
Not long after the outburst, Mr Johnson picked ex-Royal aide Simon Case as his No10 Permanent Secretary, ahead of Mrs Romeo.
Mrs Romeo’s hopes suffered a blow when, days after nominations closed for the Cabinet Secretary’s job, details of allegations against her from 2017 were leaked.
She was cleared of any wrongdoing and continued to rise through Whitehall ranks. But the damage was done. As Foreign Secretary in Theresa May’s government, Mr Johnson met Mrs Romeo, 46, in 2016 in New York, where she was Her Majesty’s Consul General.
Photographs of their meeting show Mrs Romeo beaming at her political boss. She tweeted: ‘Excellent day with Boris Johnson.’
Foreign Office diplomats say that when Mr Johnson returned to London he was full of praise for ‘marvellous Antonia’. He started dating Miss Symonds two years later.
Today’s developments are likely to lead to fresh calls to investigate how much power Miss Symonds wields. Her increasingly high profile is reflected by her appearance on the front cover of the latest edition of Tatler magazine, which is headlined: ‘Carrie’s Coup.’
According to a survey by the magazine, 69 per cent of voters believe Miss Symonds influences decisions in No10. It comes as the Mail revealed how:
Miss Symonds has won plaudits for her environmental campaigns, and retains strong public support from prominent Conservatives.
Former sports minister Tracey Crouch said the attacks are ‘misogynistic’. Fellow Tory MP Caroline Nokes said: ‘Jealous little men feel threatened by intelligent women.’
However, criticism of her has also surfaced. Rachel Sylvester, a columnist for The Times, said this week that a former colleague of Miss Symonds had said of her: ‘It’s a bit like [teen movie] Mean Girls, you’re either in or you’re out.’
Another ex-colleague said that Miss Symonds was ‘incredibly manipulative’, she wrote.
Boris Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson says if you are a ‘trusted friend’ of Miss Symonds, she is ‘all sweetness and light’.
But if she sees you ‘as an enemy... she will brief against you with a ferocity which may seem unhinged’. Such briefings by politicians are, however, fairly commonplace in politics these days.
Samantha Cameron with Michelle Obama during a visit to the private residence at Downing Street in 2011
The dispute between Miss Symonds and Miss MacNamara goes back to when they both worked for Sajid Javid when he was Housing Minister.
Miss MacNamara was Director General of Housing and Planning; Miss Symonds was a junior political adviser.
Friends of Miss Symonds say she did not trust Miss MacNamara.
This newspaper has established that she described her in ‘offensive’ terms. The criticism flies in the face of the widespread reputation for leadership integrity that won Miss MacNamara promotion to Director General of Propriety and Ethics in 2018.
It meant she was responsible for advising ministers on standards and ethics – including the Prime Minister. It includes spending on the Downing Street flat, big enough for a family of six.
Tension between Miss MacNamara and Mr Johnson started when he became alarmed at Miss Symonds’ use of an expensive interior designer to refurbish the flat.
Sleazebuster who stood her ground
Helen MacNamara has taken a top job with the Premier League, effectively ending her career in the civil service
Helen MacNamara’s glittering career in the civil service effectively ended last month when it emerged she had taken a top job with the Premier League.
It is not even a year since she was appointed as deputy to the Cabinet Secretary, in what many saw as a stepping stone to the top job.
She reportedly fell out of favour after refusing to bow to Downing Street pressure and clear Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying. Instead, Whitehall’s ‘sleazebuster-in-chief’ had stood her ground.
After studying history at Clare College, Cambridge, Miss MacNamara originally set out to become a web entrepreneur.
She went on to feature in a list of 35 women leaders under 35 to watch, but later recalled: ‘I wasn’t really interested in money, and that actually is a very significant failing if you’re trying to run a business. I was interested in doing interesting things and having a nice time and working with people.’
She entered the civil service in 2002, joining the Department for Culture, Media and Sport where she played a key role in London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics. One Tory minister described the mother of four as ‘a perfect official, fair-minded, doesn’t play games, will always try to get at the truth, capable of bringing sense out of five-sided talks’.
Her husband Alex Towers, a former colleague, is now director of policy and public affairs at BT. Miss MacNamara herself has been hired as director of policy and corporate affairs for the Premier League.
He is understood to have been told last year that ‘around £30,000’ could be charged to the taxpayer. He would have to pay the rest. This is when the discussions on getting Tory donors to pay, possibly via a blind trust, began – according to well-placed sources.
The outcome of the discussions is not known. Mr Johnson was said to be ‘very keen’ on both ideas.
Friction with Miss MacNamara was compounded by a separate dispute over her investigation into bullying claims against Home Secretary Priti Patel. To Mr Johnson’s fury, Miss MacNamara refused to bury the allegations.
Insiders said this made it easier for Miss Symonds to persuade him to side with her.
Furthermore, friends of Miss Symonds say her close friend, Henry Newman, a Tory adviser to Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove, had clashed with Miss MacNamara over ‘leaks’.
Mr Newman’s appointment earlier this month as assistant to new No10 Deputy Chief of Staff Baroness Finn was one of the triggers for the renewed controversy.
She reacted with fury last year when, with mounting speculation that Miss MacNamara faced the chop at the Cabinet Office, departing Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill gave her the additional title of Deputy Cabinet Secretary.
It was seen as a way of protecting Miss MacNamara. If Miss Symonds won her campaign to have her thrown out of the Cabinet Office, she would still be No2 in the Civil Service hierarchy. Miss Symonds claimed Mr Gove’s advisers were livid because it boosted Miss MacNamara’s power. Miss MacNamara was duly offered a series of alternative Whitehall roles by Mr Johnson, but declined them.
She was recently appointed Director of Policy and Corporate Affairs for the Premier League.
A Downing Street spokesman declined to comment.