Boris Johnson has moved to shore up his No 10 operation by announcing two new appointments to senior Downing Street roles.
The Prime Minister said Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay will become his chief of staff, while journalist Guto Harri will become director of communications.
It comes after Johnson lost five of his Downing Street aides in the space of 24 hours on Thursday and Friday, as more MPs sent letters in calling for a vote of no confidence in their leader.
The most painful departure was that of Munira Mirza, who had worked for Johnson for more than a decade.
The policy chief quit on Thursday with a damning letter criticising Johnson for his use of a “scurrilous” smear against Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, over the failure to prosecute Jimmy Savile.
Resignations followed from director of communications Jack Doyle, chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, and special adviser in the policy unit Elena Narozanski.
The Sunday Times also reported on Saturday that special adviser Henry Newman, a friend of the PM’s wife Carrie, would leave No 10 and would likely return to work with his old boss Michael Gove.
Newman may be embroiled in the partygate scandal, after reports suggested he had allegedly attended a party in the flat shared by Johnson and his wife during Covid measures.
No 10 said Mr Barclay’s role, which he will combine with his job in the Cabinet Office, would include being “in charge of integrating the new Office of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Office, driving the Government’s agenda more efficiently and ensuring it is better aligned with the Cabinet and backbenchers”.
Mr Harri was Johnson’s spokesman and chief of staff during his first term as London mayor.
The former BBC journalist quit GB News last year following a row over him taking the knee during a debate on the racism directed towards England football players.
Although considered an ally of Johnson, he has been critical of the PM and called him a “hugely divisive figure”.
Johnson said: “This week I promised change, so that we can get on with the job the British public elected us to do.
“We need to continue our recovery from the pandemic, help hundreds of thousands more people into work, and deliver our ambitious agenda to level up the entire country, improving people’s opportunities regardless of where they’re from.
“The changes I’m announcing to my senior team today 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.”
More announcements are expected in the coming days with what No 10 said would be a “particular focus on improving engagement and liaison with MPs”.
It had already been announced that Tory MP Andrew Griffith would replace Mirza.
The changes came too late for some MPs, however, as 15 Tories have now publicly called for Johnson to resign, with the number expected to be more in private.
Wimbledon MP Stephen Hammond was asked on BBC Radio 4 whether it was “the beginning of the end” for the PM, and he said: “It certainly looks like that at the moment.”
On Friday, former minister Nick Gibb became the latest Conservative who said Johnson had to be replaced.
Writing in The Telegraph, Gibb, MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, said his constituents were “furious about the double standards” and he said the Prime Minister had been “inaccurate” in statements to the Commons.
He said: “The Prime Minister accepted the resignation of Allegra Stratton for joking about a Christmas party that she hadn’t attended, but he won’t take responsibility for those that he did attend. I am sorry to say that it is hard to see how it can be the case that the Prime Minister told the truth.”
The MP said: “To restore trust, we need to change the Prime Minister.”
Backbencher Aaron Bell (Newcastle-under-Lyme) also declared publicly he had submitted a letter calling for a vote of no confidence in his leader.
John Glen, a Treasury minister and Salisbury MP, said the situation with No 10 was “deeply uncomfortable, disappointing, and embarrassing”.
Writing in his local newspaper The Salisbury Journal, he did not call for the Prime Minister to resign but said: “The culture in Number 10 fell short of what the country had a right to expect, and responsibility must be taken for the mistakes that were made.”
But Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries launched a passionate defence of the Prime Minister, claiming that 97% of Tory MPs supported Johnson.
She told Times Radio: “There are a small number of voices, whether they are people who were ardent supporters of Remain, who see this as their last opportunity to reverse Brexit.”
Out of the 15 Tory MPs who have so far publicly called on Boris Johnson to go, just seven of those had publicly backed remaining in the EU in the 2016 referendum.
One of those who has said the Prime Minister should go is David Davis, who served as Brexit secretary, and another is strident Brexiteer Andrew Bridgen.
However, Hammond disputed this, and said: “I think as far as I can see, the people who so far declared that they’ve written a letter are from all wings of the party and none.”
Dorries admitted “there are a number of reasons actually, it’s not just one”, but she said: “That certainly is at play with a group.”
She also insisted Johnson told the truth “to the best of his knowledge” based on what he was told by his aides.