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Downing Street Chief of Staff

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Downing Street
Chief of Staff
Liam Booth-Smith
since 25 October 2022
Office of the Prime Minister
StyleDowning Street Chief of Staff
TypePolitical Advisor
AppointerPrime Minister
Formation4 May 1979
First holderDavid Wolfson
Website10 Downing Street

The office of Downing Street Chief of Staff is the most senior political appointee in the Office of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, acting as a senior aide to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The holder of the office retains a highly powerful, non-ministerial position within His Majesty's Government.

The role of Chief of Staff initially had executive authority, vested by the Prime Minister, and at the time of its inception, was referred to as the most powerful unelected official in the UK and possibly ranked third in government, after the elected Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer.[1] Since 2007, the role does not have legal or executive authority, although the post holder remains, by definition, the senior adviser to the Prime Minister, and controls access to the Prime Minister and their staff.

From 1997 to 2019, and from November 2020, the title of Chief of Staff has been held by the most senior special adviser at Downing Street. Steve Barclay, the Member of Parliament for North East Cambridgeshire, served as Chief of Staff from February 2022 to July 2022, following the resignation of Dan Rosenfield. He was the first MP to serve in this capacity, and also retained his position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and a Cabinet Minister, compounding the Chief of Staff's power and access in UK Government. On 24 July 2019, Dominic Cummings was appointed as a senior adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and was described as the de facto Chief of Staff from 24 July 2019 to 13 November 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The incumbent chief of staff is Liam Booth-Smith, who was installed in the position by Rishi Sunak upon his accession as prime minister in October 2022.


The Chief of Staff is an appointed special advisor or a career civil servant who is personally and politically close to the Prime Minister. The responsibilities of the post have varied according to the wishes of the sitting Prime Minister. Since the Chief of Staff is at the centre of the Downing Street operation, he or she will always be influential and closely involved in government policy formulation and implementation, political strategy and communication, and generally advising the Prime Minister, in conjunction with their wider "ministerial adviser" colleagues.


The first official chief of staff in 10 Downing Street was David Wolfson, under Margaret Thatcher from 1979 to 1985.[2] The position of Downing Street Chief of Staff was recreated by Tony Blair upon his becoming prime minister in 1997[citation needed] and Jonathan Powell held the post for ten years.

In 1997 Tony Blair gave his chief of staff, a special advisor, 'unprecedented powers' to issue orders to civil servants.[3] Previously the Cabinet secretary had been the most senior non-ministerial figure in the British Government, and along with the principal private secretary to the prime minister had supported the prime minister in the running of 10 Downing Street. Following the creation of the role, the chief of staff supplanted the principal private secretary in running Downing Street operations and effectively replaced the power of the Cabinet secretary in terms of co-ordinating government policy.

Although the Cabinet secretary continued to be a highly important role, through remaining responsible for making sure that the civil service was organised effectively and was capable of delivering the Government's objectives,[4] the chief of staff replaced the Cabinet Secretary as the "right-hand man" for the prime minister.[5] "Powell had been at the epicentre of power. As Tony Blair's chief of staff, he was the ultimate fixer, the prime minister's first line of defence against events, baby-catcher in chief. When things went wrong, people called Powell."[6]

When Powell stood down as chief of staff at the end of the Blair premiership in June 2007, the incoming prime minister, Gordon Brown, temporarily appointed civil servant Tom Scholar as both Downing Street chief of staff and principal private secretary to the prime minister. This was changed upon Scholar's scheduled departure in January 2008, when the title chief of staff was divided amongst two posts in an attempt to split the political policy communication role from the management of civil servants within Number 10.[7] As such, senior civil servant Jeremy Heywood replaced Scholar as principal private secretary to the prime minister, a position he had held under Tony Blair several years earlier, with the role of chief of strategy and principal advisor to the prime minister (effectively chief of staff) being given to political advisor Stephen Carter.[7][8]

After less than a year in the post Carter resigned, becoming a minister and receiving a peerage amid speculation that his 'chief of strategy' role had insufficient authority to direct cross-government operations;[9] the position of chief of staff remained vacant for the remainder of the Brown Premiership.[10] Upon David Cameron becoming prime minister in May 2010, Conservative advisor Edward Llewellyn was appointed as Downing Street chief of staff. Cameron also created the role of Downing Street deputy chief of staff, with responsibility for supporting the chief of staff, which was given to Catherine Fall.[11]

Theresa May appointed two joint chiefs of staff in Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill upon becoming prime minister in 2016.[12] Former minister Gavin Barwell succeeded Timothy and Hill after the 2017 general election.[13] The formal title was out of use between July 2019 and November 2020, under prime minister Boris Johnson, when the role was overseen by Dominic Cummings as chief adviser and Edward Lister as chief strategic adviser.[14] However, during this time, Cummings was noted to be the de facto chief of staff.[15][16][17] When Cummings departed Downing Street, Johnson appointed Lister as acting chief of staff.[18]

Lister was succeeded by Dan Rosenfield on a permanent basis.[19] In February 2022, following months of scandal owing to Partygate, Rosenfield, alongside other senior aides Martin Reynolds, Munira Mirza and Jack Doyle, resigned.[20] He was replaced by Steve Barclay, the first MP to hold the position. Barclay served concurrently as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, giving him notable power over Whitehall operations.[21]

Five months later, the resignation of Sajid Javid during the July 2022 United Kingdom government crisis caused a vacancy in the office of Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, which Barclay was appointed to fill shortly prior to Boris Johnson's resignation as prime minister. While no successor was formally appointed, Simone Finn, Baroness Finn held the role in a de facto, acting capacity.

On 6 September 2022 Mark Fulbrook, a veteran Conservative party strategist was installed in the role as part of the incoming Truss ministry.[22] Upon Rishi Sunak becoming prime minister on 25 October 2022, he installed long-term adviser Liam Booth-Smith as chief of staff, making Fullbrook the shortest-serving chief of staff in the office's history.[23]

List of Downing Street Chiefs of Staff[edit]

  Denotes service as acting Chief of Staff
Downing Street Chief of Staff
Chief of Staff Term of office Party Ministry
David Wolfson 4 May 1979 2 September 1985 Conservative Thatcher I
Thatcher II
Vacant 2 September 1985 – 2 May 1997
Various de facto Chiefs of Staff
Thatcher III
Major I
Major II
Jonathan Powell 2 May 1997 27 June 2007 Labour Blair I
Blair II
Blair III
Tom Scholar 27 June 2007 23 January 2008 Independent Brown
Vacant 23 January 2008 – 11 May 2010[10][note 1]
Stephen Carter served as Chief of Strategy and Principal Adviser to the Prime Minister from 23 January to 10 October 2008.
Jeremy Heywood served as the 'de facto' Chief of Staff from 10 October 2008 to 11 May 2010.
Edward Llewellyn 11 May 2010 13 July 2016 Conservative Cameron–Clegg
Cameron II
Fiona Hill 14 July 2016 9 June 2017 Conservative May I
Nick Timothy Conservative
Gavin Barwell 10 June 2017 24 July 2019 Conservative May II
Vacant 24 July 2019 – 13 November 2020
Dominic Cummings as Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Edward Lister as Chief Strategic Adviser
Johnson I
Edward Lister, Baron Udny-Lister
13 November 2020 1 January 2021 Conservative Johnson II
Dan Rosenfield 1 January 2021 5 February 2022 Independent
Steve Barclay MP 5 February 2022 5 July 2022 Conservative
Baroness Finn
5 July 2022 6 September 2022 Conservative
Mark Fullbrook 6 September 2022 25 October 2022 Conservative Truss
Liam Booth-Smith 25 October 2022 Incumbent Independent Sunak

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It has sometimes been claimed that Jeremy Heywood served as chief of staff from October 2008-May 2010, but he himself maintained that this was not the case (see adjacently-cited Institute for Government article).


  1. ^ Ian Katz (15 March 2008). "The inside man". The Guardian. London.
  2. ^ "Lord Wolfson of Sunningdale, businessman who became Mrs Thatcher's chief of staff at No 10 – obituary". The Telegraph. 14 March 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  3. ^ Nick Assinder. Jonathan Powell BBC 14 July 2004. (Accessed 25 September 2007)
  4. ^ "Role of Cabinet Secretary". Archived from the original on 28 June 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  5. ^ Assinder, Nick (14 July 2004). "Profile: Jonathan Powell". BBC News.
  6. ^ Katz, Ian (15 March 2008). "The inside man". The Guardian. London.
  7. ^ a b Wintour, Patrick (24 January 2008). "Brown's chief of staff leaves for Treasury post". TheGuardian.com.
  8. ^ "Brown appoints new chief of staff". BBC News. 23 January 2008.
  9. ^ "The rise and fall of Gordon's PR guru | News". Archived from the original on 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 June 2010.
  10. ^ a b Tingay, Paeony; Durrant, Tim (10 February 2022). "Downing Street chief of staff". Institute for Government. Retrieved 19 February 2024.
  11. ^ Rogers, Simon (13 June 2010). "Government special advisers: the full list as a spreadsheet". The Guardian. London.
  12. ^ Mason, Rowena (15 July 2016). "May appoints former advisers as joint chiefs of staff". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 December 2017.
  13. ^ Savage, Michael (10 June 2017). "Gavin Barwell appointed Theresa May's chief of staff". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  14. ^ Walker, Peter (24 July 2019). "Dominic Cummings of Vote Leave named key Johnson adviser". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  15. ^ Parveen, Nazia (23 May 2020). "Dominic Cummings profile: aide at centre of lockdown breach row". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2021.
  16. ^ Morrison, Sean (13 December 2019). "Key players in Boris Johnson's election campaign". Evening Standard. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  17. ^ Wickham, Alex (27 July 2019). "How Dominic Cummings Took Control In Boris Johnson's First Days As Prime Minister". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  18. ^ Black, Derek (14 November 2020). "The Prime Minister has asked Edward Lister to be Acting Chief of Staff". World Stock Market. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  19. ^ Walker, Peter; Stewart, Heather. "Boris Johnson appoints Dan Rosenfield as No 10 chief of staff". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  20. ^ Morales, Alex; Donaldson, Kitty; Ashton, Emily (4 February 2022). "Boris Johnson's Key Aides Quit, Leaving Premier on the Brink". Bloomberg. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  21. ^ Rutter, Jill (8 February 2022). "How can Steve Barclay be No 10 chief of staff and remain a minister?". New Statesman. Retrieved 13 August 2022.
  22. ^ "New PM installs close allies in top cabinet jobs". Financial Times. 6 September 2022. Archived from the original on 11 December 2022. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  23. ^ Payne, Sebastian (25 October 2022). "Who's who in Team Sunak - new PM's core aides". Financial Times. Archived from the original on 11 December 2022. Retrieved 29 October 2022.