Rishi Sunak’s director of communications has quit her role, as Downing Street’s mini-reshuffle took an internal turn.
The former ITV journalist, Amber de Botton, who was brought in to salvage the government’s sinking reputation when Sunak took over from Liz Truss as prime minister, announced on Friday she had “decided it is the right time to move on”.
She provided no explanation for the move, but paid tribute to Sunak for his support and leadership.
In a nod to the pressures of the job, De Botton said No 10 was a “demanding and high-pressure place to work”, but added the professionalism and talent of those working inside it was “exceptional”.
De Botton lasted less than a year in the role, having joined Sunak’s team at the end of October 2022. Previously, she had been a senior editor at ITV, where she helped craft its coverage of the Partygate saga.
The channel broke several stories about the illegal events in Downing Street during Boris Johnson’s premiership. It published leaked footage from a fake TV press conference where staff joked about a Christmas party not being socially distanced.
Government sources suggested the timing of De Botton’s departure was not entirely coincidental.
It comes days after a long-serving former government special adviser, Jamie Njoku-Goodwin, was reported to have been lined up as the new No 10 director of strategy. One insider said the move had put “some noses out of joint”, with De Botton appearing to have been undermined. “She’s not really in the gang,” said another.
Njoku-Goodwin was said to have been brought back into Downing Street by Liam Booth-Smith, who as well as being his friend and former flatmate is also Sunak’s chief of staff.
The previous Downing Street director of communications, Adam Jones, had lasted considerably shorter in the role than De Botton. He took the top job in September 2022, but was cast out along with the rest of the Truss administration when she stood down after just 49 days in office.
Under Truss, the role was split – with Jones helming political communications and a senior civil servant appointed, Simon McGee, to oversee other government communications.
“If you look at how long people have lasted in the role recently, it suggests it’s a nigh on impossible job,” noted one well-placed Westminster observer.
Earlier this week, Booth-Smith is said to have irked some special advisers at their weekly meeting known as “spad school” by suggesting they quit if they had doubts about winning the next election. One of those present characterised his message as: “Step back if you don’t think we can win.”
One senior official said the No 10 political team were blinkered, and “seem to think the whole country is on Rishi’s side”.
Some Tories have poured praise on the government’s attempt to control the narrative this summer with a series of themed weeks pegged to various announcements. However, “small boats week” fell into disarray when migrants housed on the Bibby Stockholm were removed over safety fears just days later.
A former cabinet minister said policies announced over the summer recess had been “incredibly weak”.
De Botton was part of the media team that gave presentations to Whitehall departments earlier this year. The Guardian revealed that the slides said “we still have a challenge with cut through” and raised concern about most people being unclear what the government’s priorities were.