Boris Johnson told to rein in top adviser after racism row

Senior Tories spoke out after Andrew Sabisky, an official hired by Dominic Cummings to work for the prime minister, quit over race comments

Dominic Cummings, special advisor for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, leaves his home in London, Britain February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Nicholson       NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
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Boris Johnson was under pressure from colleagues in the UK‘s ruling Conservative Party to discipline his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, as an escalating row over accusations of racism threatened to engulf his government.

Senior Tories, including current and former ministers, spoke out after Andrew Sabisky, who was hired to work in the prime minister’s office, quit over his claims in 2014 that black Americans were intellectually inferior to whites.

The blame for recruiting Mr Sabisky fell on Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, who launched a high-profile drive to attract “weirdos and misfits” to join his effort to revolutionise the way British government works.

It is the latest in a series of controversies involving Mr Cummings since he started working with Mr Johnson last year.

Last week, Mr Cummings was blamed for a plan to strip the Treasury of its independence on economic policy, which prompted Sajid Javid to resign as chancellor of the exchequer after a row with Mr Johnson.

The senior adviser, who orchestrated the pro-Brexit campaign before the 2016 referendum, earlier clashed with Mr Javid and others in government over his unorthodox methods and confrontational approach.

The furore comes at a critical time for Mr Johnson’s government, as it prepares to open negotiations with the EU on a trading agreement, and threatens to overshadow the prime minister’s domestic agenda.

“It’s incumbent on the prime minister to keep Dominic Cummings on a tight rein,” former minister Caroline Nokes said. “When an adviser becomes a story, then clearly there’s a problem.”

Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng said Mr Johnson’s office must “ensure this doesn’t happen again” and needed to review the process for vetting recruits.

Problems arise when “you get people who slip through the net, who are recruited in perhaps an unorthodox way", Mr Kwarteng told Sky News. “I think the vetting will be much more severe."

Mr Johnson’s government won a large majority in December’s general election, putting him in a powerful position to shape the country and drive his reforms agenda through Parliament.

Mr Cummings said he wanted to shake up the way the government worked by recruiting “unusual” people with “different skills and backgrounds".

In a 3,000-word blog post last month, Mr Cummings said there was “little need to worry about short-term unpopularity” given the size of Mr Johnson’s majority.