Operation Save Big Dog: Boris Johnson hatches plan to get partygate officials out so he can keep his job

Boris Johnson draws up a list of officials to offer resignations on partygate in a bid to save his job as Prime Minister, The Independent has learned.

Dubbed ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ by the Prime Minister himself, the plan includes a campaign to determine which heads should roll after senior civil servant Sue Gray’s findings are published, as well as highlighting the Prime Minister’s achievements, according to sources.

Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, his private secretary and author of the ‘BYOB’ email, have both been noted as possible departures.

Although putting names on the plan is a matter of heated debate, a more widely accepted idea is that at least one senior politician and one senior civil servant should be seen leaving Downing Street on the case, as the two groups share the blame, two Whitehall sources mentioned.

A former Conservative minister said The Independent that, although they backed Mr Johnson, they believed a ‘root and branch’ overhaul of No 10 and parts of the Cabinet Office would prove essential to move on from partygate. It would be a “minimum to translate contrition into action”, they said.

The “save a big dog” plan includes a communication “grid” before the conclusion of the investigation and beyond. This includes lines for supporting ministers to take in press interviews, highlighting a contrite prime minister and listing his achievements amid the tough choices posed by the pandemic.

The operation also includes polling backbench MPs’ support for possible leadership rivals, including Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and even former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Mr Hunt is unlikely to garner enough support to win the leadership, but number 10 aides believe he could play a significant role in any leadership race.

The plan reflects how precarious the position of Downing Street and the Cabinet Office has become following a flurry of very detailed party reports amid Covid-19 restrictions.

The former chief executive of the government’s Covid task force posted an apology on social media on Friday for leaving drinks at the Cabinet Office during coronavirus restrictions days before Christmas in 2020.

Kate Josephs, chief executive of Sheffield City Council, said she was cooperating with an investigation by senior civil servant Sue Gray and admitted to a “gathering…with drinks, in our office”.

This followed an apology from Downing Street to Buckingham Palace after reports of The Daily Telegraph of two No 10 parties held on the eve of Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral. Officials have refused to confirm or deny whether Boris Johnson was aware of the parties, after admitting to attending at least one drink and being photographed every second. On Friday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “It is deeply regrettable that this has happened at a time of national mourning and that No 10 has apologized to the Palace.”

It is unclear whether Downing Street has admitted, in its apology to the palace, to breaking Covid rules with a social gathering. One of the rallies was a going away party for Mr Johnson’s director of communications, James Slack, who said on Friday that ‘the event should not have happened when it happened’.

Downing Street also declined to comment on whether there was a plan to save Mr Johnson, but when asked about the name ‘Operation Save Big Dog’, a spokesman said: ‘We absolutely do not recognize that phrase.

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