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UK PM ‘including recruits’ to Downing St team

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will recruit more new staff to his Downing Street team, his spokesman says, following a series of scandals that have left him fighting to shore up his authority.

Johnson has faced growing anger over a series of reported parties in Downing Street during COVID-19 lockdowns and questions about often chaotic style of leadership.

“In the coming days, I don’t have specific dates, I think certainly you’ll see further changes,” his spokesman said, referring to new appointments that had been made over the weekend.

“There will be additional recruitment into Number 10.”

The prime minister hired Guto Harri, an aide from his days as London mayor who has recently been critical of Johnson, to try to regain control of the government’s messaging after weeks of turmoil that have led some in the ruling Conservatives to call for his removal.

He also appointed a senior cabinet minister, Steve Barclay, as his new chief of staff.

Visiting a hospital cancer centre on Monday outside London, Johnson said he was “focused completely” on clearing a backlog of millions of medical procedures built up during the pandemic.

It is one of a pile of critical issues, including a squeeze on household finances from inflation and a looming tax hike, that are being overshadowed by Johnson’s personal woes.

“I think what people want is for the government to focus, not on stuff going on at (the government district of) Westminster, but to focus on life… beyond Westminster, and to focus on the needs of the country,” Johnson said.

“And that is what we’re doing.”

Johnson’s appointment of Harri, a former BBC journalist who worked for him at City Hall from 2008 to 2012 but has more recently criticised him, has surprised some observers.

In 2018, Harri called Johnson “sexually incontinent” and in 2020 he said government communications during the pandemic had been “a masterclass in incompetence”.

Last month Harri said reports of parties in Downing Street while the United Kingdom was in lockdown were “unforgivable” although also “understandable in some ways”.

Harri told a Welsh-language news site that Johnson greeted him on his first day by singing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.

The staff moves are intended to reassure Conservative lawmakers who are debating whether to seek a no-confidence vote in the leader who won them a big parliamentary majority just over two years ago.

Under party rules, a no-confidence vote is triggered if 15 per cent of party lawmakers — currently 54 people — write letters calling for one.

If Johnson lost such a vote, he would be replaced as party leader and prime minister.

Only 15 of the 360 Conservative legislators have publicly called for Johnson to quit although the number who have written letters is likely higher.

with reporting from AP

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