BORIS Johnson is continuing to rearrange his No.10 team amid calls for his new chief of staff to quit as an MP.
The Prime Minister made changes in Downing Street over the weekend, installing Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay as his new chief of staff and former BBC journalist Guto Harri as his top spin doctor.
He is due to continue the amendments this week, with some MPs likening the manoeuvres to “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. as questions still remain over his premiership.
Today in the Commons MPs questioned how Mr Barclay could possibly work as a minister, an MP and now chief of staff at the same time, and challenged the propriety of the appointment.
They argued he should stand down as an MP is he was to retain the chief of staff title, saying a civil service role alongside an elected position were not compatible.
The SNP’s Brendan O’Hara raised doubts about Mr Barclay’s ability to “salvage Downing Street’s reputation” and questioned whether the appointment was compliant with the Erskine May principles on parliamentary practice.
Mr O’Hara explained: “Erskine May, the section on public service disqualification says ‘All persons employed either in whole or in part in the civil service are disqualified [from being an MP], and it is immaterial whether they’re serving in an established capacity.’
“It’s clear as day that he is a new chief of staff at Downing Street. He is also a serving member of this house. He cannot do both.
“According to Erskine May, he has disqualified himself from that role, so when will the Government be moving the writ for the by-election?”
Paymaster General Michael Ellis, responding for the government, said Mr Barclay was “not a civil servant”, adding: “He is, he remains a servant of this house, a servant of the people of this country, democratically elected and highly accountable.”
Angela Rayner, Labour deputy leader, said that despite the government claiming the appointment offered an “enhanced role for parliament”, Mr Barclay had not turned up to the Commons to explain his new job in person.
She said:” Quite honestly where is the chief of staff?
“His very first act is refusing even to turn up here to explain his own job, but maybe the paymaster general can tell us.”
Ms Rayner added: “This Government is in chaos and the country is paying the price.”
Mr Ellis, in his reply, said the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is answerable to the Commons and will “present a full range of responsibilities to this House in due course”.
Meanwhile, Downing Street has defended Mr Johnson’s appointment of former journalist Guto Harri as his communications director in No.10 after it emerged he had previously lobbied the government for banned Chinese technology firm Huawei.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Mr Harri “provided advice to the clients of a private company”, adding: “That’s entirely legitimate, it’s in the public domain and obviously we would not exclude from Government someone with valuable experience and expertise.”
The spokesman was also asked about comments Mr Harri made to a Welsh news website about his meeting with the PM.
The Golwg360 website reported Mr Harri as saying that the Prime Minister was “not a total clown” and that the pair sang Gloria Raynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ during a meeting about his new role on Friday.
Mr Harri told the website: “I walked in and I did a salute and said: ‘Prime Minister, Guto Harri reporting for duty’, and he stood up behind his desk and started to take a salute but then he said: ‘What am I doing, I should take the knee for you’.
“And the two of us were laughing. After I asked him: ‘Are you going to survive, Boris?’, and in his deep voice, slowly and purposefully, while singing slightly he finished his sentence by saying: ‘I will survive’.
“In a way I could not resist he invited me to say: ‘You’ve got all your life to live’, and he replied: ‘I’ve got all my love to give’, and so we had a little blast of Gloria Gaynor.”
Mr Harri added: “Nobody expects that, but that’s the way it was. There was a lot of laughing and we sat down to have a serious chat about how to get the Government back on track and how do we move forward.
“Everyone’s attention is currently on recent events that have caused a great deal of hurt, but in the end, that’s nothing to do with the way people voted two years ago.
“He is not a total clown, but he is a very likeable character.”
Mr Harri, who previously served as a key aide to Mr Johnson while he was mayor of London, said “90%” of their discussion was “very serious”.
He said the Prime Minister is “not the devilish man as some wrongly portray him to be”.
The newly appointed spin doctor also said Mr Johnson is aware of questions about his ability to continue in the top job.
He said there has been a move to reorganise No 10 with “professional people who are pragmatic and more experienced, and perhaps less ideological”.
A Labour spokesman accused the Prime Minister’s new team of “more clown show nonsense”.
“Britain faces a combination of spiralling bills, rising prices and Tory tax rises,” he said.
“But the PM’s new team have decided to kick off their much-vaunted ‘reset’ with yet more clown show nonsense.
“It’s already clear that another round of deckchair shuffling in Downing Street hasn’t changed the fact this Tory Government is utterly incapable of getting on with its job.”